CBS looks at streaming shows online

The US television network CBS is in talks to make its top shows available on the internet streaming service Hulu.com, in the latest sign that programme-makers are stepping up experiments with new ways to distribute their content.

CBS was the last hold-out among the big four American TV networks and had not joined its rivals – General Electric's NBC, Rupert Murdoch's Fox and Disney's ABC – in the joint venture that launched Hulu in 2008.

Talks with CBS, whose shows include CSI, Two And A Half Men and the US version of Big Brother, have taken place sporadically since Hulu opened its doors, and have intensified in recent weeks.

The internet site is also talking to Viacom and Time Warner about broadcasting some of their shows. Viacom owns MTV and Time Warner's channels include TNT and TBS.

Hulu is fighting to establish itself as a one-stop destination for viewers who want to catch up with major shows after they have been broadcast, an equivalent to a UK viewer having the BBC iPlayer and ITV and Channel 4's players all in one place.

However, having reached 903 million video streams in January, viewer numbers plunged after the Viacom-owned Comedy Central decided to pull The Daily Show with Jon Stewart from Hulu in the spring. The venture has also been under pressure from the networks to wring greater revenues from the content licensed to it.

The new talks with CBS and others are aimed at bulking up the content on the site later this year, before it introduces fees for users. To date, the venture has made money by selling short ads for before and during shows.

The venture's directors have been coy about models, but analysts believe a subscription service is most likely, with the latest shows remaining free-to-air but older episodes falling behind the subscriber paywall. The new service, costing $9.95 (£6.68) per month, is expected to be called Hulu Plus, according to media reports.

"We're in constant discussions with partners and entrepreneurs about how to generate incremental revenue for getting our content to consumers when and where they want it," CBS said, after Bloomberg reported its talks with Hulu.

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