CBS (finally) gets into the digital subchannel business

decadesChicago’s last digital subchannel holdout is about to convert.

WBBM-TV owner CBS – who operates Chicago’s only TV station not operating a digital subchannel – is entering a new venture with Weigel Broadcasting in launching Decades, a new digital subchannel network scheduled to launch in the second quarter of 2015 (in layman’s terms, next spring.)

The channel has been cleared on the digital subchannels of all 16 primary CBS-owned and operated stations (does not include CBS-owned CW affiliates or independents.) Other clearences are expected to follow, with Weigel planning to sell the concept to CBS affiliates and non-CBS affiliates alike. Weigel has partnered with other companies to launch diginets – namely Fox with Movies! and Tribune Broadcasting with This.

Recently, Weigel launched Heroes & Icons, a new diginet targeting male viewers and to compete with Katz Communication’s Grit, which targets a similar demo. Grit recently got a boost by scoring a huge deal with Sinclair Broadcasting.

Unlike other broadcasters, CBS hasn’t branched out into the digital subchannel atmosphere much – so far, only WCBS-TV in New York (News & Information Wheel) and KTXA in Dallas (MeTV) are the only O&Os with digital subs. Decades would air on the yet-to sign-on channel 2.2., and cable carriage deals would also have to be struck.

In an unusual format, Decades will have no set schedule – programming varies on a day-to-day basis. The centerpiece show is Decades Retrospectical, an one-hour strip produced around the news events and cultural milestones of a specific day, week, timeframe, or theme (or whatever.) The TV series and movies airing on that particular day reflects on that day’s theme or event.

CBS has more than 100 television series, a wide selection of theatrical and made-for-TV movies, and historic news footage and material from CBS News and Entertainment Tonight to draw off of. Television series being featured include I Love Lucy, Star Trek, Happy Days, and Cheers, all from CBS Television Distribution.

The opportunity to launch Decades comes as more and more diginets are launching into the marketplace. In addition to Grit and Heroes & Icons, Sinclair Broadcasting is launching an all-sports channel (the first since Universal Sports moved to satellite several years ago), and Katz recently launched Escape, a channel targeting females.

The diginets are also looking to take advantage of the closing of the ABC-owned stations’ Live Well Network in early 2015. There is still no word on what would replace Live Well on the ABC O&Os’ digital subchannels, though the option of returning to independent station status is a likely possibility.

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