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It's A New Season For Video-On-Demand

As a new season starts, many in the TV industry are looking at this as the year when video-on-demand comes into its own.

When consumers use VOD instead of a DVR, it is better for networks because commercial skipping is often disabled, which means higher C3 ratings and more ad revenue. It’s also good for cable operators to keep subscribers happy and stem the growth of cord-cutting and over-the-top digital viewing.

Historically, VOD use has been dominated by watching movies, but in a new blog post, Comcast Cable’s senior VP and general manager, video services Matt Strauss says that 60% of what its customers watch on demand is TV shows and that TV shows has become the top-viewed category on demand by growing faster than movies and kids content.

One reason for the growth is that more and better TV content is available. Comcast, which owns NBC, will be offering viewers a special Xfinity Fall TV Fest. In a move designed to build buzz for premiere week, the first episodes of five broadcast shows will be available on Comcast’s VOD before they air: new shows Ironside and Welcome to the Family from NBC, Trophy Wife from ABC and We are Men from CBS, plus the season premiere of Fox’s returning comedy The Mindy Project. In addition, Comcast VOD will have sneak peeks and other

content from almost 50 shows.

“Premiering a new show’s pilot episode on demand before it debuts live can build buzz and drive ratings for the new series,” Strauss says. (More reasons why Strauss thinks VOD  can help launch TV shows a little later.)

VOD has not always been a very advertiser friendly. One reason was a lack of data coming from the cable operators and the networks about viewership. In another new blog post, Bruce Goerlich, chief research officer of Rentrak says the industry is sharing more data. Goerlich says 60 cable networks have agreed to share monthly viewership information, enabling advertisers to compare their reach and frequency-the most basic advertising metrics.

Goerlich says that the top networks in terms of VOD reach and frequency for the first half of the year are Music Choice and kids networks Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Nick Jr., all mainly watched by young early adopters. The grown-up networks with above average VOD reach and frequency are A&E, TruTV, TBS and Comedy Central.

When time viewed is also factored in, helping networks with longer programs, the kids networks remain among the leaders. Music Choice and Comedy Central are fall just slightly below average, trailing AMC, History, Impact, Lifetime, TLC, TNT and VH1 in addition to A&E, TruTV and TBS.

“I’d be a bad researcher if I said this is a definitive look at VOD. Not all networks have agreed to be transparent, and I haven’t even shared with you all the networks we do have data on,” Goerlich says on his blog, adding, “when you think about those millions of VOD viewers, just waiting for someone to put in a super impactful pre-roll ad as they settle into watch the program they have deliberately decided to engage with, doesn’t the ad man (person) in you salivate? I know I do!”

Going back to why VOD can help networks launch shows, Strauss makes several other interesting points in his blog.

  •  Catching-up Drives Ratings and “Snapping” Makes it Even Stronger.We have data that shows ratings increase when customers have an opportunity to catch up on earlier seasons before premieres. For example, we saw a ratings lift for the season premieres of Mad Men after Watchathon Week in March. And other networks saw this same lift for their shows too. And a new term–snapping–makes it even stronger. When you snap a few seasons together with the current season, you drive ratings for the current season. We are doing this with hits like Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), Law and Order SVU (NBC), Parks and Rec (NBC), and Parenthood (NBC). Every past season of these shows are available on Xfinity Streampix, giving customers the ultimate catch-up opportunity. So, we’re using Fall TV Fest to load up Xfinity On Demand with every episode from the last season of hot returning shows such as Chicago Fire (NBC), The Mindy Project (Fox), The Walking Dead (AMC), Boardwalk Empire (HBO), Homeland (Showtime), and Dance Moms (Lifetime) so  our customers can catch up before the new season begins.
  • Ratings increase when customers can predictably watch the entire season of a show On Demand. Once the fall season gets underway, we’ll help both existing fans and new ones who might want to “catch the train” of a buzzed-about show catch-up and stay current with every episode of the current season for more than 150 series like Chicago Fire (NBC), The Good Wife (CBS), Boardwalk Empire (HBO), and Homeland (Showtime).
  • Mini-binge is the new binging. Yes, the weekend-long binge-viewing marathon does indeed exist as evidenced by our Watchathon Week in March. But our data suggests more people actually “mini-binge” - or watch 1-2 episodes per week right around the day the show airs live. This suggests fans are trying to keep up with their favorite shows to stay current and participate in both the physical and digital water-cooler talk the next day.
  • Primetime still exists. Despite more content available across more devices, our data tells us that peak viewing time - no matter on TV, PC, tablet or smartphone - is still between 8-11 p.m., suggesting that viewers still gravitate to enjoying TV during the traditional primetime hours regardless of where and how they’re doing it.

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.