CBS News is rebranding its streaming channels as CBS News Streaming Network, with a new slate of programming featuring more of the network’s broadcast talent, including a Person to Person series hosted by Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King tapped to anchor the first of new CBS Reports documentary projects.
Other shows include new weekly series featuring others from the CBS Mornings franchise, including Tony Dokoupil, Tracy Smith, Lee Cowan, Michelle Miller, Dana Jacobson and Jeff Glor, as well Steve Hartman and Ben Tracy. Live reports will come from a new 4,000-square-foot studio at the CBS Broadcast Center, with heavy use of LEDs and touchscreen monitors. There also will be new graphics and music for the line up.
Neeraj Khemlani and Wendy McMahon last year were named presidents and co-heads of a combined CBS News and Stations, and they have made a number of changes to bolster streaming across the divisions.
Khemlani said that last year, when CBS President and CEO George Cheeks asked him and McMahon to head up the combined divisions, “we could start to envision how you bring this enormous reporting scale, across the board, together, with streaming as the tip of the spear.”
“You start to say, ‘Imagine a new service that you can stream that has national and global streams, local news, content that you love from the most iconic franchises in the business, it comes really quite simple.”
McMahon said that “as we start to shift, as we start to evolve, will more fully leverage our live breaking news capabilities across the entire CBS stations footprint,” with a user experience “that alerts you to special coverage to big moments as they are happening, and then enables you to move seamlessly in a frictionless fashion from national to local back to national, and that is all in one session.”
The announcements also come as there has been some speculation about the future plans for King and O’Donnell, whose contracts reportedly expire this spring. CNN reported last week that King has decided to renew.
Khemlani declined to talk about personal contracts, but said, “Gayle and Norah and Tony and the entire roster, they are showing incredible leadership in terms of their streaming [shows]. They all want to be a part of that future and be the pace cars for the entire news division. So it is no longer a question of contracts and anything else. It’s really about time. It’s also about passions and there’s incredible IP in the vault.”
CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell, which also streams nightly, continues to be in third place in the Nielsen ratings, but Khemlani said that the broadcast is “the closest it has been to its competitors in 27 years.” He said that “when you think about CBS News’ DNA, it’s really about original reporting and exquisite storytelling.”
Asked if this means that O’Donnell will remain in the anchor slot, he said, “We have no current plans to change what we are doing. We’re leaning into our strength.”
News divisions and cable news networks have put an increasing emphasis on their streaming channels, adding more of the marquee names from their traditional networks. In addition to O’Donnell, King and Dokoupil, CBS News Streaming also is tapping into a number of the news division’s popular and classic franchises.
CNN has been building up its plans for a subscription streaming service, CNN+, set to debut this spring, that will feature a mix of new hires like Chris Wallace, Audie Cornish and Kasie Hunt, along with shows from Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper, among others.
CBS, by contrast, launched its streaming service in 2014 as a free ad-supported offering called CBSN, and a unique aspect has been specialized local channels tied to network-owned stations in individual markets. CBS News Miami launches on Monday, and a Detroit channel is scheduled for later this year.
The series programming includes:
Person-to-Person, described as a new take on the Edward R. Murrow interview series, will feature O’Donnell interviewing newsmakers starting with researcher and author Brene Brown. The monthly series will premiere at 10:30 PM on Tuesday.
CBS Reports will feature documentaries and CBS News special reports under the banner that first debuted in 1959, with the distinctive Aaron Copland version of the Shaker song Simple Gifts. Gayle King will anchor the first project on Feb. 25, called Trayvon Martin: 10 Years Later, that comes from the network’s race and culture unit. Another project is Wasteland, a four-part series with CBS News correspondent and executive producer Adam Yamaguchi on the impact of waste and garbage on the country’s waterways.
Here Comes the Sun, a weekly series anchored by Smith and Cowan, will spotlight original reporting from CBS Sunday Morning and feature extended interviews and not-yet-seen moments. Premieres on Tuesday at 6:30 AM, with additional airings.
Eye on America, a weekly series featuring Miller, co-host of CBS Saturday Morning, is an extension of the CBS News segments that spotlights people’s stories in communities across the country. It also will feature segments from local stations. The premiere will be at 8 PM on Monday, followed by additional airings.
The Uplift, a weekly series, will be hosted by Dokoupil and will feature “profiles of people who overcome the odds, make their communities better and simply put a smile on our faces and give viewers faith in humanity,” according to the network. It’s based on a “good news” segment that debuted on the streaming channel and Facebook Watch in 2018. The premiere will be at 10:30 PM on Jan. 27, with additional showings in the following days.
On The Road with Steve Hartman will be a series version of the segment Hartman revived for the network in 2011, originally started by Charles Kuralt. The timeslot has to be announced.
The Dish, hosted by Miller, Jacobson and Glor, is a series version of the food segments popularized on CBS Saturday Morning, featuring chefs and culinary personalities.
Climate Watch will spotlight the impact of climate change with CBS News senior national and environmental correspondent Ben Tracy and other reporters.
MoneyWatch will be financial segments running throughout the day.
The nighttime lineup will start with Red and Blue, the politics show featuring the Washington team of anchors and correspondents. At 7 PM ET there will be a live newscast anchors out of New York, Washington or Los Angeles. Jericka Duncan, anchor of CBS Weekend News and national correspondent, will anchor from New York on Monday, with Lilia Luciano from Los Angeles on Tuesday, Elaine Quijano from New York on Wednesday, Lana Zak from New York on Thursday and Errol Barnett in Washington on Friday.
The 8 PM to 10 PM ET slot will feature a mix of Person-to-Person, Eye on America and CBS Reports, along with content from shows like 60 Minutes and 48 Hours. At 10 PM ET will be CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell.
Dokoupil will occasionally anchor in the daytime hours, including on Monday from noon to 4:30 PM. Miller, Glor, Jacobson and Duncan also will anchor during the daytime, joining Quijano, Zak, Vladimir Duthiers, Anne-Marie Green and Tanya Rivero, who have been the anchors on CBSN.
CBS first launched a local channel in New York in 2018, and has since added services in Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Denver, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Sacramento and Baltimore. McMahon said that they will expand local news coverage by an additional 15,000 hours, bringing the total to 45,000 hours. They also launched a local news innovation lab at two Texas stations earlier this month to experiment with new ways of creating content and leveraging tech and data.
McMahon said that local streams increased by 37% in 2021 from the previous year, and was up 40% in minutes watched last year.
“I actually think there is a bit of a renaissance that we are experiencing in the local TV space,” she said. “And in some respects it is because of the relevance of community based content and community based journalism. When you think of every story that has played out over the past two years, they have played out differently based on where you live.”
She cited the gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Kim Potter trial on CBS News Minneapolis as the type of local story that also had national resonance. “You get a sense of the power of harnessing this local storytelling, this local content, because while it was relevant to the Minneapolis and St. Paul audiences, it also was incredibly relevant to Chicago, to Georgia, to Philadelphia.”
Overall, CBS News said that its channels had 1 billion streams for the second year in a row in 2021. When it comes to streaming, networks have cited varying figures to publicly point to progress, as audience measurement in the space has been the source of some consternation and competition.
“For us, the number of streams, how long people engage with it when they start to watch it, those are all critical measures for what we are doing,” Khemlani said. He added that there are also “news opportunities and partnerships” with sister networks internationally, citing Telefe in South America, Channel 5 in London and Network 10 in Australia. “The game is mass distribution,” he said.
Khemlani also addressed whether the streaming expansion meant cost cutting elsewhere. He said that streaming “is its own business. It’s growing. As we continue to grow scale across the board, we can self finance that. It’s not about making cuts. It’s about investing…It’s about integrating.”
CBS News recently hired Anthony Galloway from The Wall Street Journal to serve as senior vice president of CBS News Streaming, and Robert Costa from The Washington Post as chief election and campaign correspondent.
Asked about a New York Post report recently highlighted cost cutting in the news division, Khemlani said, “I would say to you that articles out there have talked about people who are no longer with the company. Every single one of those positions has been and will be filled. I can’t speak to other reporting conclusions, but I can speak to the investment path that we are making…We are talking about re-imagination and expansion.”