Turner, Comcast Move to Capture Binge-Watching Crowd

Time Warner’s Turner and Comcast are working quickly to rewrite the rules currently established in the nascent realm of VOD.

In 2014, Turner tested making available the entire season of then-freshman dramas “Murder In The First”(above, pictured) and “The Last Ship” to Comcast subscribers, ensuring those people would be able to watch each show from its debut episode through to the most current one airing on linear TV. In 2015, Turner is making much of its current original programming -15 programs in all –  available on such a basis to Comcast and is looking to do similar deals with other video distributors, said Jennifer Mirgorod, executive vice president of brand distribution for the company, in an interview.

“The customer has gotten quite used to going to Netflix, Amazon or Hulu and seeing a past season of all the episodes available,” Mirgorod said. “This same experience should exist within the current window, not just the past-season window.” The crop of programs being made available via Comcast’s Xfinity includes not only returning programs like “Falling Skies” and “American Dad” but freshman entries like the TBS comedy “Angie Tribeca” and “Agent X,” a TNT action drama starring Sharon Stone.

Binge-watching was once characterized as a niche behavior adopted by those technophiles who wanted to indulge in subscription-video-on-demand entertainment services. As it turns out, however, this way of viewing TV is growing. Using video on demand to explore new programming “is part of how our customers view TV,” said Steve Meyer, vice president of video strategy and analysis at Comcast Cable. “We are finding the primary use is not just catching up on VOD, but discovering content on VOD.”

With that in mind, media companies are no longer blanching at the thought of putting current-season episodes up on VOD, but rather trying to figure out how much to make available and for how long.

NBC, also part of Comcast, has raised eyebrows with its plans for the new drama “Aquarius.” The network has made the entire first season available via NBC.com, Hulu, the NBC mobile app, iTunes and various cable and satellite distributors until June 25th. PBS last October made the seven-episode Ken Burns documentary series “The Roosevelts” available through PBS stations’ video sites, PBS.org, and PBS station-branded digital platforms, including Roku, Apple TV and Xbox. The organization found most viewers used the digital availability to play catch-up with the series and then joined the linear broadcast to be part of a broader community of fans.

Under some existing deals, current-season episodes are allowed to stay in distributors’ VOD libraries for as long as a few weeks, but ultimately are taken down. In some agreements, TV networks allow as many as four or five episodes –typically some combination of the most current offering and four previous weeks’ worth – to stand.

Comcast is making the argument, Meyer said, that discovering new programming is taking longer as more TV networks launch premium content.In the case of Comcast’s Xfinity On Demand viewers watching TNT’s”The Last Ship” last season, for instance, 30% of the 1.1 million views of the series took place after the fourth week it was on the air. About 33% of the views for “Murder in the First” took place after the fourth week.

The numbers suggest that people are discovering programs several weeks after they first hit linear television but want to be able to start them from the first episode, Meyer said. “People are expecting that most of these services to have a more complete viewing experience, and if it’s not there, I think the series is having trouble attracting new audiences,” he said.

Turner would like to set up similar arrangements with other carriers, said Mirgorod. But the company would want to make certain the video-on-demand service is accorded a certain degree of promotion,has the capacity to carry a full slate of current-season episodes,and would allow for a technique known as “dynamic ad insertion” that allows for the placement of new commercials in the program after a certain amount of time. “We clearly want our content in as many places as possible,” she said.

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