CBS, the top-ranked US television network, on Wednesday announced plans to broadcast for free three episodes of its new drama, Threshold, on the company’s website.

The move marks the first time that CBS has made one of its dramatic series available on the web, and highlights the broadcast television networks’ growing embrace of the Internet both for distribution and promotion of its content.

In a landmark move, Walt Disney earlier this month unveiled plans to sell episodes of its top-rated ABC shows, Lost and Desperate Housewives, for download through Apple’s iTunes store a day after their debut. The programmes cost $1.99 apiece.

The CBS strategy differs because the episodes will only be available for a limited three-day window after their initial broadcast, and will not carry advertising. The goal for CBS is to build a bigger audience for Threshold’s advertising-supported network broadcast, as well as increasing visitors to its website.

“We continue to seek and identify new ways in which traditional media and new media can work together to help each other’s respective businesses,” said Nancy Tellem, president of the CBS Paramount television group.

Last month, CBS’s sister network, UPN, undertook a pioneering experiment with Google, the Internet search company, to broadcast the premiere of its Everybody Hates Chris programme on its website. CBS has also created blogs on its website dedicated to its most popular programmes.

“The Internet is a valuable promotional tool,” one executive at a rival television company said. “You can’t get viewers just by promoting on television anymore.”

Use of the Internet has been complicated, however, by the need to renegotiate rights for producers, broadcasters, network affililiates, and others for the new medium, according to network executives. A programme’s foreign rights, for example, might be impacted if it has already been accessible over the internet. They are also concerned that making their shows available in digital format will make them more vulnerable to piracy.

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