CBS is using the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” to start a new company division and create a cross-platform event that uses, in show biz terms, what must be the original platform: the stage.
The media company announced the formation of CBS News Live Experiences, a new business unit that will use the CBS news division, its archives, its owned radio and TV stations and its streaming Web sites, to present special events connected to history. For instance the one CBS was there to record, on the "Sullivan" show that aired live on Feb. 9, 1964.
Around the event, CBS will hold a symposium, called “50 Years: The Beatles,” on that same Sunday, on that same stage, a half century later, live streamed on two CBS sites. Vintage photographs and other archival material will be on display in the auditorium, and after the symposium at 6, the crowd will also hang around to see a screening of “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles,” which will air on CBS at 8 pm that night.
It’s a good idea, and one that local stations and newspapers could duplicate with lesser cross-platform events in their towns, for their own historical events. That seems to be along the lines CBS is thinking, too, but on a larger stage. But in Anytown USA, local historical societies and TV or newspaper sites should be joined at the hip. There's a lot of accessible and fascinating historical content waiting to be plucked.
“People are passionate about our media properties,” David Goodman, the president of CBS Live Experiences, told Variety. “We are thinking about how we could create more experiences around those assets and bring them to life in ways that go beyond broadcast — in the infotainment space, in the spoken-word space. We have a lot of opportunities.”
Tickets for the Beatles event will apparently be available only to fans who enter a contest conducted by CBS stations in local markets. (In that, CBS is, perhaps unknowingly, paying homage to the Beatles’ first U.S. tour, when in many cities the opportunity to buy tickets was a prize doled out by local rock radio stations.)
CBS News did something similar when it live streamed its four days of coverage of the Kennedy assassination, as it unfolded in real time, in November. Like the appearance by the Beatles, the Kennedy anniversary matched up exactly 50 years later—November 22 in both years occurred on a Friday.
No one seemed to care about the Kennedy experience, even at CBS, if you ask me. The network gave it minimal publicity, though it really did make for some extraordinary Web viewing. (For example, watching Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald was historical, but you’ve seen it before. Noticing that CBS was unable to instantly replay it—and that, in fact, the word “replay” wasn’t a word that was naturally in the lexicon—was a media history lesson of a different sort.)
The symposium on the Beatles will be hosted by Anthony Mason, who does many profiles of musicians for “CBS Sunday Morning.” CBS said the panel will include Pattie Boyd, a photographer and model who was married to George Harrison; Andrew Loog Oldham, who managed The Rolling Stones in their early days; Mick Jones, guitarist, songwriter and record producer, who founded the rock band Foreigner; and Julie Taymor, film, opera and theater director whose Oscar-nominated “Across the Universe” included more than 30 Beatles songs.
With no disrespect meant, one sort of hopes this panel will be sweetened considerably, to raise the event to the level of a CBS “experience.” There’s no Sir Paul and no Richard Starkey, for example. Maybe there will be surprises? I hope so.