Media

Comcast: Binge watching actually helps live TV ratings (exclusive)

Orphan Black-01
Image Credit: BBC America

The best way to hook someone into an existing series of stories is to make sure they can start from the beginning. The same is also true of TV shows, and Comcast has the data to back it up.

As part of its seasonal “Watchathon” promotion, Comcast has added all current-season episodes for a handful of shows to its on-demand video library. The move means you can now binge watch TV series through a traditional cable provider — although you don’t have to devote an entire day in your smelly PJs watching TV since the programming is available at your convenience.

It also produced some other interesting results, such as boosting the ratings for Live TV premieres of those shows, Comcast told VentureBeat in an exclusive interview.

On average, broadcast TV series with at least eight episodes into the current season saw a 34 percent boost to the live premiere of the following episode, according to Comcast. When looking at cable network series, the increase to live TV viewing is even higher at 69 percent.

“The majority of the shows on that list are scripted dramas, but [genre] varies,” said Comcast VP of programming Andy Hunter in an interview with VentureBeat. “The Good Wife has gotten a huge lift … but you could also look at a show like Orphan Black on BBC America which has a huge buzz but doesn’t necessarily have a large audience.

“Whether it’s a hugely popular broadcast show or a fledgling cable series, as long as they provide bankable [aka on-demand] content, we can see success with this strategy.”

I can understand why. Although I didn’t watch through Comcast, I was able to binge watch nearly the entire series Psych via Netflix just in time for the season eight premiere on USA Network earlier this year. (I did the same thing with The Walking Dead, but that was a bit more costly since I had to buy the episodes online.)

The larger, more important observation to take away from this data: Media companies that make TV shows are starting to realize that time-shifted and on-demand content is beneficial to the industry-standard TV ratings for new episode premieres.

“If you went back three years ago, most TV programmers maybe wished that time-shifting [content] wasn’t happenings. But it’s a reality that everyone has had to come to terms with,” said Steve Meyer, Comcast’s executive director of video strategy and analysis. “Now you’re seeing programmers putting more on the system and being more open to video on-demand content.”

Hunter said Comcast has been successful in “moving the needle forward” when it comes to getting other content producers to make their content available on-demand as part of a larger play to boost TV ratings. He told me that the first year Comcast did Watchathon, it only had participation from 25 networks and under 75 TV series. This year, the company has 50 networks participating and on-demand content from over 130 series.

I asked Hunter if its reasonable that TV subscribers would be able to get the kind of experience that Hulu users get — plus live TV content as it premieres, of course — in the near few years.

His response? “Ultimately, that’s our strategy.”

One other thing to note: Comcast also sees a 25 percent jump in on-demand viewing from customers that use its X1 cable box, which sort of already offers much of the same functionality as Hulu. (I would chalk this up to an interface that’s leaps and bounds better than the standard crappy UI found on most of the older cable boxes.) Better hardware means people watch more on-demand video. More on-demand video means higher ratings. Higher ratings mean TV programmers make more money… and every one is happy.

Why did it take this long for the TV industry to figure this out?

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