One month before the drama series “Hannibal” returns for a second season on Feb. 28, NBC made the first season available to Amazon Prime subscribers. Providing a catch-up opportunity is a smart way to drive tune-in back on air, but it’s something else NBC and Amazon are doing to collaborate that’s really shrewd: hosting a #13HourDevour event that invites fans to a mass binge-viewing session complete with exclusive content, contests and live tweets from the cast.
It’s not good enough for studios to simply license complete prior seasons and hope audiences just happen to find them. But these deals are becoming increasingly common: When the second season of “The Americans” makes its debut on FX on Feb. 26, its entire previous season will have been available on Prime for nearly a month. A&E’s “Bates Motel” is offering a slightly longer window for the first season, which went live on Netflix Jan. 31, ahead of new episodes March 3.
Reintroducing a series that some potential viewers might otherwise decide to bypass because they missed the first batch of episodes can work particularly well for a second-year show. Try it later in a series’ run, with too many seasons to watch, and what otherwise might have been polished off in a binge view or two now requires a full-blown marathon.
But there’s a whole other rationale for these deals: to collect licensing revenue from SVOD services before the traditional syndication window, still several years down the road, helps recoup deficit-financing. It’s no coincidence all these shows are serialized dramas, which are particularly conducive to binge-viewing in SVOD, and badly in need of extra financial support to survive the linear channel environment that typically punishes the genre.
Still, given the increasing volume of prior-season deals, TV networks and studios must have come to the realization that SVOD availability doesn’t cannibalize audiences for on-air content. And exclusive shows help SVOD services differentiate themselves in a competitive market otherwise awash in commoditized programming.
Surely the TV networks were encouraged by the example of “Scandal,” which ABC made available on Netflix before its sophomore season in September 2012. The strategy no doubt helped transform a middling ratings performer into a hit.
Which isn’t to say these first-year deals work wonders every time. Warner Bros. tried the strategy with a trio of shows, NBC’s “Revolution,” Fox’s “The Following” and A&E’s “Longmire,” in January 2013, without significant lift. And comedy doesn’t tend to translate as well in catch-up mode. “New Girl,” a sophomore laffer 21st Century Fox sold to Netflix before its second season began in the fall, didn’t see much improvement.
Another SVOD player, Hulu Plus, has tried slight variations on these deals for TV sophomores. The first season of ABC drama “Nashville” was just added to its lineup, but the show’s second broadcast season has been airing since the fall. Hulu Plus also just made a deal for second-year drama “Elementary,” but that CBS series won’t be available until before its third broadcast season begins.
Better to go into catch-up mode earlier in a show’s run. But as savvy a strategy as something like #13HourDevour is, more can be done. Why not supplement a “Hannibal” spot or billboard, for instance, with “Missed the first season? Catch up on Amazon Prime!”
Much is made of the standoff between TV networks and SVOD supplier over in-season “stacking” rights. Even some of the more innovative dealmaking, like the CBS-Amazon tie-up in support of “Under the Dome” — soon to be followed by “Extant” — has led to tensions.
But prior-season licensing brings these divided parties together. There just needs to be more cooperation to truly maximize mutual benefit.