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Digital Previews Juice Cable-Network Premieres

In a nod to changing viewing patterns, cable networks this month are offering early online looks at new shows ahead of their linear debuts.

Travel Channel yesterday (June 14) launched the full 11-episode season of its freshman unscripted series Big Crazy Family Adventure on its “Watch Travel Channel” TV everywhere app, a week in advance of the show’s June 21 premiere on the linear network.

Travel’s binge-watch-inducing move follows ABC Family’s decision to premiere the first episodes of two of its new June series premieres — Stitchers and Becoming Us — and Lifetime’s move to offer the first three episodes of UnREAL online after the June 2 linear premiere of the new scripted dramedy series.


With viewers increasingly watching series content online, and embracing the option of watching several episodes in a single setting — having been trained to do so by the likes of Netflix and Hulu — networks are hoping the early looks at the new series will build awareness and word-of-mouth, and will particularly drive young, millennial viewers to the linear premieres.

While such a move could hurt linear ratings for new shows, networks are hoping the added exposure provided by the online previews will actually provide a ratings boost.

“Awareness and word of mouth virally is critical to the staying power of a show,” ABC Family executive vice president of programming and development Karey Burke said. “It’s about getting the product seen where, how and when we can.”

For Travel Channel, getting product seen means offering all episodes of Crazy Family Adventure — which follows a family through a 96-day, 13,000-mile trip with no airline travel allowed — through subscriber-authenticated video-on-demand.

Along with the Watch Travel Channel app and the network’s website, the show is available for download on Comcast’s Xfinity on Demand and on VOD platforms offered by Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable and Verizon Communciations’s FiOS TV. Episodes also are on other platforms, including Apple iTunes, Google Play and Microsoft’s Xbox Video.

Henry Ahn, executive vice president of content distribution and marketing for Scripps Networks Interactive, said it’s hoped the VOD offering will draw attention to the show and build awareness for the show and the network.

“By working with our trusted distribution partners, we’re able to treat our viewers to this entire series at once while building excitement for the travelogue and our playful Travel Channel brand,” Ahn said. “Given our viewers’ insatiable appetite for quality programming and great story telling, this is a fun and exciting first foray for us.”

Lifetime hopes an early view of the first four episodes of UnREAL on and via on-demand platforms on June 6 will help build upon sluggish ratings from the show’s June 1 premiere episode. The series, which goes behind the scenes of a fictional reality show, garnered 815,000 total viewers in its premiere, below the network’s 986,000 primetime viewer average for the month of May.

The show’s June 8 episode drew 707,000 viewers, although Lifetime said the median age of the second episode was 33, well below the network’s median age of 47.

“We knew UnREAL would have to do some heavy lifting to deliver the younger, new viewership we expected it to bring to Lifetime,” Christian Drobnyk, Lifetime’s senior vice president of programming strategy and acquisitions, conceded. “Working with our cable, satellite and telco distribution partners, our pre-release strategy was designed to reach potential fans that may not be connected to Lifetime just yet and give them enough episodes to form a fairly strong addiction to the show.”


ABC Family’s Stitchers drew 1.28 million viewers its debut episode, two weeks after the episode premiered on several online platforms including, as well as Amazon video, the Watch ABC Family app and a network- run website,

Burke said the intent is that offering an early look at its new shows online — which also includes the debuts of Kevin From Work (Aug. 12), Monica the Medium (July 13), Job or No Job (Aug. 5), Next Step Reality: NYC (Aug. 11) and Startup U (Aug. 18) — will not hurt linear ratings but instead will help draw more viewers collectively.

“We wanted as many people to see [the shows] before [they] launch on linear,” she said.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.