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CBS eyes younger viewers with launch of OTT streaming sports news service

CBS Corp. took another step into the direct-to-consumer arena Feb. 26, launching CBS Sports HQ, a free, commercial-based streaming service focusing on sports news, information, highlights and analysis.

A collaboration between CBS Sports and CBS Interactive, CBS Sports HQ provides live news and stats coverage from anchors and reporters, who will look to bring key insights to information and highlights that will be updated around the clock. CBS Sports HQ also features DVR-like functionality enabling users to toggle between live coverage and previous segments.

CBS Sports HQ is modeled in large part after CBSN, which the programmer launched in 2014 to bring CBS News into the digital arena. CBSN counted 287 million streams in 2017, a 17% jump over the 2016 presidential election year. CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves also recently noted that 80% of its audience falls into the advertiser-coveted, 18-to-49 demo.

Jeff Gerttula, executive vice president and general manager of CBS Sports Digital, said in an interview the service is open to all sports fans, but the expectation is that it will skew toward young adults, because "they are the ones who gravitate more toward streaming."

In addition to CBSN, CBS Corp.'s other direct-to-consumer plays are CBS All Access and Showtime OTT, which together have reached the 5 million-subscriber mark. The programmer also is planning a free, ad-based service tied to the "Entertainment Tonight" franchise to debut this fall.

The launch of CBS Sports HQ comes ahead of two of the company's signature sports events in the weeks ahead: the "March Madness" men's college basketball tournament and The Masters golf tournament. Its debut also beats the bow of ESPN Plus, Walt Disney Co.'s initial U.S. direct-to-consumer gambit, which is expected to launch sometime this spring. ESPN Plus will offer thousands of games not found on ESPN linear channels for $4.99 per month.

Viacom Inc. also said it will launch a paid streaming service by the end of its fiscal year, giving subscribers access to an array of library programming from across its network portfolio, while 21st Century Fox Inc.'s FOX News Channel (US) will launch Fox Nation, a news opinion-driven, OTT subscription service in the fourth quarter.

Moonves publicly announced that CBS was looking to bow a direct-to-consumer sports service during the company's earnings call with analysts last August, but Gerttula said the product's roots date back to the fall of 2016.

As is the case with CBS Sports Digital overall, Gerttula said news coverage at CBS Sports HQ is divided into five dayparts: morning, where scores from the night before are augmented with data components; afternoon, refreshed with more updates and information; early evening, previewing the night's upcoming action; night, with progress reports on the early games; and night/overnight, looking at west-coast action and full recaps. Coverage will also center on breaking news or push toward significant days on the sports calendar.

The screen is underlined by a crawl on the bottom listing schedules, scores and news snippets, while a right-side column features standings, statistical leaders, and game previews, including point-spread information.

CBS Sports HQ has retained a dedicated staff working out of CBS Sports Digital facilities in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. At times, it also will tap various talent from CBS Sports to provide perspective and analysis.

Among those seen on CBS Sports HQ's opening day: anchors Jamie Erdahl and Hakem Dermish, NBA and college basketball analyst Raja Bell, NFL and college football analysts Brady Quinn and Danny Kanell, and combat sports writer Brian Campbell.

Gerttula said the product is only in its "first inning as we build a foundation." Although it will remain focused on news, information and highlights, the streaming service will experiment with various types of presentations. "My guess is you will see something significantly different a year from now," he said.

On the advertising front, a look at CBS Sports HQ on its launch date showed 30- and 15-second spots from marketers across a number of categories, including Infiniti, Samsung Galaxy, Hershey's Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs, the U.S. Army, California Almonds, Chick-fil-A, Rocket Mortgage and Cialis.

Gerttula said CBS Sports Digital is making different options available, including "unique plays, sponsor-able segments and more standard packages. It's only the day 1 lineup, so things will change."

From a promotional perspective, the new service will be touted on CBSN and CBS All Access, and across CBS Sports Digital properties, including 247 Sports and MaxPreps, which combined reach over 60 million monthly users. Promos will air on CBS (US) and CBS Sports Network (US).