Skip to main content

VOD Pumps Up Turner Dramas

The numbers were a bit of a surprise. About six weeks ago, Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at Turner Broadcasting, noticed sizable increases in timeshifted viewing for original dramas on TNT, increases that were bigger than the growth in the number of DVRs.

Wakshlag found increased time-shifting in homes without DVRs. “It was man bites dog,” Wakshlag says. “How do you get time-shifting in homes without DVRs?” The answer is C3- rating compatible viewing on video on demand.

Until recently, a lot of cable programming became available a week after it aired and appeared with few commercials. But a few years ago, Turner ran a test with Cox Communications that proved viewers would watch new shows even if they carried a normal commercial load and fast-forward was disabled.

“We would give Cox fresh episodes of The Closer, but we wouldn’t give them to anyone else because no one else agreed at the time to run our content with a full ad load, fast-forward disabled,” Wakshlag says. “Over time, we’re getting more agreement to that.” And with more cable operators signing on, Turner is seeing substantial increases in viewership.

Wakshlag says the arrangement is good for viewers. It’s also good for Turner because under these circumstances, those viewers get included in Nielsen ratings. And with fast-forward disabled, they watch a lot of commercials, giving a nice boost to the C3 ratings that are the currency for media buyers and advertisers.

In homes with digital cable but without DVRs, Turner’s Falling Skies is getting an 18% lift in program ratings and a 14% lift in commercial ratings in the key demo of adults 18-49. Leverage is up 24% in program ratings and 21% in C3. Hawthorne and Memphis Beat also show 10% increases in C3.

“We’ve got a bona fide shift in consumer behavior,” says Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks. “VOD with a full commercial load is a success with consumers now that we’ve been tracking it for six weeks, and it’s a business success.” With delayed viewing lifting C3 ratings, “you’re talking about getting paid 25%, 30%, 41% more for that spot than we did a year ago,” especially on shows that skew young and male. “That’s a good thing.”

Some shows from other programmers are also seeing lifts. For example, USA Network’s Suits is getting an 18% lift from time shifting in non-DVR, digital cable homes, according to Turner. Burn Notice and Royal Pains are up 16%.

USA also started putting full commercial loads in its shows on VOD on June 1, according to Ted Linhart, senior VP of research, which means the network’s VOD viewers are counted in C3. (Viewers can fastforward USA shows.) Three new episodes of In Plain Sight appeared on VOD before June 1; their C3 rating among adults 18-49 was 15% higher than the live program ratings. After June 1, new episodes of In Plain Sight registered a 35% lift.

“We are seeing much bigger lifts for our playback numbers,” Linhart says. “The numbers are on the right track toward better representing the viewership.”

At Turner, a recent episode of Falling Skies had 1.9 million viewers in the 18-49 demo watching on delayed basis. Some shows have had more delayed viewers watching than viewers watching live. That changes the calculus for evaluating and scheduling shows, Koonin says.

“Every Tuesday morning, we get great news from The Closer. But I know that on Friday or the following Monday, I’m going to get even better news from those episodes,” Koonin says. He notes that for its finalseason debut, TheCloser had 7.4 million viewers. With delayed viewing, the audience jumped to 8.7 million. “That’s a big number,” Koonin says.

Fresher content is boosting VOD viewership for Turner shows. A year ago, Leverage averaged 31,475 VOD views; this year it’s getting 134,431, according to Rentrak. Views of Memphis Beat have jumped from 28,496 to 125,965.

Koonin says that in evaluating shows, while he still looks at overnights, the C3 ratings get equal weight. “That’s what advertisers are paying for and that’s what shows are going to be judged on,” he says.

VOD is a component of TV Everywhere, Turner parent Time Warner’s plan to make its content available to subscribers where they want it, when they want it and on whatever device they choose.

“Our distributors are making it easy for people to consume television. That’s the principle with TV Everywhere,” says Koonin, who calls the extra viewing opportunities a dream for programmers and for brands. “This is incredible evidence that the vision is working.”

E-mail comments to and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette