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Turner Set to Stack More Series on Comcast VOD

Turner Broadcasting is stacking more of its original series on Comcast’s video-on-demand service.

The move is the result of higher ratings in Comcast homes for TNT’s The Last Ship last season after stacking—or giving subscribers access to all episodes of the current season of a series, rather than just the most recent four or five.

Beginning Monday, Turner will permit Comcast to offer all episodes of 15 TNT and TBS series on demand, including the new seasons of Murder in the First, The Last Ship and American Dad, plus the new shows Proof, Public Morals and Angie Tribeca. The shows will be part of the 550 current-season series stacked on Comcast’s Xfinity On Demand.

Delayed viewing has become a TV phenomenon, eating into traditional viewing. Comcast and other cable operators have been pushing for rights to deliver shows on demand in order to retain subscribers, who want to watch what they want when they want.

Jennifer Mirgorod, executive VP of distribution at Turner, said the programmer had been hesitant about fully committing its shows to VOD. Turner wanted to make sure it was “able to monetize the platform and be able to see what VOD did to linear ratings,” she said.

“Comcast has done a good job giving us comfort over the last couple of years in terms of the research that they’ve shown us and sold us the story of why stacking season makes sense,” Mirgorod says. On demand viewers mostly can’t skip ads and are counted by Nielsen and included in a show’s C3 ratings, and because Comcast has implemented dynamic ad insertion, later views can also be monetized. “On the advertising side, that’s tremendously helpful,” she adds.

Last season Turner put stacking to the test with its series The Last Ship. Instead of on demand reducing viewing in the C3 window, it allowed people to catch up with a series their friends were talking about. “We saw success from a linear perspective when we compared Comcast homes to non-Comcast homes,” Mirgorod said. “It was really interesting to see when an episode went up on demand, or several episodes went up, that halfway through the season there could be a lift in linear ratings because people had caught up. They’d missed maybe the first few weeks then they caught up and they were able to shift back to linear.”

The Last Ship drew a healthy 5.3 million viewers when it premiered on TNT last year. VOD allowed more people who heard about the show to catch up. “In Comcast homes we had 1.1 million homes view episode one of The Last Ship on Xfinity On Demand,” said Steve Meyer, VP of video strategy and analysis at Comcast Cable. “That’s over a million and a half viewers.” Meyer says a third saw it on demand the week of the premiere, when TNT’s marketing for the linear premier was still fresh. After the marketing quieted down, “we then saw another 65% of that audience come in after the premiere week. And 30% came in after week four,” when, without stacking, it would no longer have been available on demand.

Once those VOD users caught up, they watched new episodes as they aired. Live plus three ratings for The Last Ship were 30% higher in Comcast homes than with other distributors. “That seems to be totally attributable to stacking,” says Turner’s Mirgorod. Both Turner and Comcast also promoted that all episodes were available on demand, encouraging viewers to catch up.

Comcast and Turner saw similar results with Murder in the First. The premiere episode was seen on demand in 819,000 homes, with 33% coming after week four. The result was that live plus 3 ratings were 40% higher in Comcast homes. “This is becoming the secret sauce in how you make a show successful,” says Mirgorod.

At a time when there are more new shows and it’s harder for them to get exposure, VOD gives viewers another chance beyond linear reruns to catch a show. “That’s very exciting for us,” she said. “Comcast has the best on-demand experience, but they’ve spent a lot of time and money focusing on that. Not everybody has the same priorities.”

Meyer says Comcast saw the world becoming an on-demand world and has been investing in its on demand platform. “We’ve skated to where the puck is going to be,” he says. And now “it’s just part and parcel of how our subscribers consume content.” At Comcast, 70% of subscribers use on-demand each month for an average of 19 hours a month. In homes with Comcast’s X1 system, 85% are using on demand and they spend 33% more time viewing on demand, even when they also have a DVR.

TV shows are now the most watched programming on demand at Comcast, representing 60% of viewing, if premium cable shows are included. And this is good for programmers—and better for shows that make the most episodes available on demand. Although they needed proof.

“Everybody was very concerned,” Meyer says. The fear was that viewers would wait till the end of the season, when all the episodes stacked up, draw the blinds and binge through all of them. And that would wreck the C3 business model. “Instead, what we believed and what we’ve proven to the networks is true is that people when they’re watching a TV show actually want to be current. They want to see the new episodes when they come on and they want to talk about it with their friends, they want to go on social media and talk about it and so by stacking the show it’s almost like a train is staying at the station longer and people can get into a show after the premiere,” he says.

The numbers show that for the top 20 shows that are on VOD but aren’t stacked, ratings are 20% higher in Comcast homes versus the national average. With 50 shows that were stacked, the average ratings lift was 42%.

One of those shows was Fox’s Empire. Comcast had 3.6 million views of the first episode of Empire, with1.6 million coming after week 4. ”All of those folks got hooked on the show, caught up, and Comcast ratings started higher than non-Comcast, but grew faster,” Meyer says. “The final episode on the Comcast platform had a 10.9 rating in the demo within C3, which is amazing.”

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.