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Comcast, Turner Expand Stacking Agreement

Turner orignals are totally stacked on Comcast XFinity On Demand.

Comcast and Turner Broadcasting Systems have expanded their On Demand agreement, with the programmer agreeing to allow the cable operator to make full current seasons of 15 original TNT and TBS shows available to XFinity customers.

Full-season stacking – allowing video-on-demand customers to catch up on all of the episodes of certain series in its current season instead of just a few – has been a major initiative for Comcast for more than a year and builds on similar deals it has with cable networks and broadcasters like FX, USA Network, Fox, NBC, CBS and ABC.

Previously, Turner had stacked full-season episodes for The Last Ship, Murder in the First and Falling Skies with Comcast. Beginning today (June 8) with the Season 2 premiere of TNT’s Murder in the First, the programmer is expanding that relationship to include nine additional TNT shows (The Last Ship, Falling Skies, Proof, Cold Justice, Cold Justice Sex Crimes, Public Morals, The Librarians, Legends and Agent X) and five from TBS (American Dad, Clipped, America’s Next Weatherman, Angie Tribeca and The Detour).

“Last year we were dipping our toes in the water,” said Turner Content Distribution executive vice president of brand distribution Jennifer Mirgorod, adding that the evidence showed stacking helped build rather than fragment an audience. "Last Ship, Falling Skies, Murder in the First, I think we were thinking of them as experiments to see how this would work."

Althogh Comcat has been encouraging full stacking for years, Mirgorod said it was't until last year that the porgrammer began to see hard evidence that not only wasn't stacking eroding live viewers, it was adding to ratings.

"It was absolutley additive and their was no erosion, which some feared would be the case. It really helps build a show and particularly a new show," Mirgorod said.

Comcast vice president of video strategy and analysis Steve Meyer said the Turner deal and others is a testament to how viewership is changing and how more and more people are turning to On Demand to watch and discover scripted series.

“We’ve seen a really big explosive growth in episodic TV,” Meyer said. “It’s up more than 100% since 2011 and is the No. 1 content on VOD.”

Comcast has been a cheerleader for On Demand for more than a decade and its customers are prime examples of that dedication. About 70% of Comcast customers watch VOD every month and with its new X1 platform, 85% of customers watch VOD monthly.

Meyer said giving customers the ability to catch up to a full season of a particular show is a valuable tool.

“The big fear with stacking has been that viewers will wait until the end of the season to binge view and wreck my C-3 ratings,” Meyer said. “We’ve found the exact opposite.”

People, he said, want to be current and when they have the opportunity to get back into a show where they may have missed the first few episodes, they eventually migrate to the live viewing camp.

Mirgorod agreed.

"It's been a really helpful way to build an audience," Mirgorod said.

According to Meyer, when just the past four shows of a series are available On Demand, viewership rises 20%. When a series is fully stacked, viewership rises 40%.

“That couldn’t happen if people were waiting until the end of the season,” Meyer said.

Turner itself has seen how stacking has made a difference. Last summer, TNT’s original drama The Last Ship broke records as 5.3 million viewers nationwide tuned in to watch its season premiere live. On Comcast’s Xfinity On Demand, audiences for the show rose week after week as it routinely cracked the top 5 of Xfinity On Demand’s Top 20 list. According to Meyer, in the 18-49 live-plus-3-day (L3) demo, ratings for the show in Comcast households were 30% higher on average throughout the whole season.

And of the 1.1 million views of the premiere episode of TheLast Ship on Xfinity On Demand, 64% occurred after week one and 30% happened after week four.

The numbers were even better with Murder in the First, which was fully stacked in its first season last year with Xfinity On Demand. In Comcast households, Murder in the First’s 18-49 L3 ratings averaged 40% higher throughout the season. Of the 819,000 views of the premiere episode on Xfinity On Demand, 65% occurred after week one and 33% after week four.

Mirgorod added that in addition to stronger viewership, Xfinity On Demand provides another monetization option via dynamic ad insertion. VOD ads are the same as the linear feed for the first three days after air, but from there, ads can be refreshed throughout the VOD life of the show.

“When you put these two together, it’s increasingly becoming a value proposition, not just for the customers, but the networks are realizing they can continue to have an ad model in this time- shifted world,” Meyer said.