CBS Records Redux: Venerable Music Label Returns Digitally

by , Dec 18, 2006, 8:00 AM
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CBS Records, once a virtual All-Star team of musical superstars like Sinatra and Springsteen, is now just virtual.

But corporate parent CBS Corporation announced Friday that it will resurrect the CBS Records brand name. The original CBS Records was sold to Sony in 1988, and its assets are now part of Sony Music Entertainment. The difference this round is the focus. Instead of the eponymous vinyl product, or even CDs, the initial target will be digital distribution of the music online.

The primary reason for the label's return is media synergy. The goal of the new label will be to build awareness for CBS Records' artists and songs by integrating music into CBS television series.

The big-picture plan is to harness the powerful marketing reach of CBS' mass-media platforms to promote its music and talent directly to millions through the network's television schedule. That means shows produced by CBS Paramount Television (which includes shows on NBC, The CW and USA), on CBS's broadband "innertube" channel, the college-targeting CSTV Networks of Web sites and broadband channels, and on YouTube and other digital outlets and wireless carriers.

CBS Records will be launched primarily utilizing the existing infrastructure of CBS Entertainment and CBS Interactive. Larry Jenkins--a 23-year music industry veteran with vast experience at major labels and currently head of his own management company, L J Entertainment--has been brought onboard to consult for CBS Records during its initial phase.

"The idea of integration, being able to use CBS as a launching pad of sorts for their artists, is a pretty big deal," says David Peisner, an Atlanta writer who covers the music industry. "For better or worse, from an artistic standpoint, TV has become a powerful player for the music business, and I'm not talking about MTV."

Peisner says that while the Internet has leveled the playing field for music artists because it allows everyone to get their music out, it's also difficult for a band to separate from the pack.

"If you can get a song on holy land like "Grey's Anatomy," it's a huge leg up," he says, pointing to The Fray and its hit song "How to Save a Life." "That album has been huge, but it's TV that's made it huge."

CBS Records will make songs, music videos and other music-related content available for purchase and download at iTunes and its own Web site, www.cbsrecords.com, as well as other online providers to be announced later. Through partnerships with other companies, CBS Records will also make some music available through physical distribution.

Jenkins will work closely with Amy Osler--vice president, music, CBS Entertainment and CBS Paramount Network Television--and Jeff Sellinger from CBS Interactive to sign new talent, hire key music-industry executives and work with the various divisions to promote and distribute CBS Records music.

Any potential downside won't affect the business, but the creative art, Peisner adds.

"Producers of these programs probably have a lot less flexibility," he says. "It won't cost them as much to license songs, but if they want to go get a song from Epic or Warner Brothers, their hands are going to be tied. The suits are going to be pushing these CBS artists on people."

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