In-season TV series stacking was a talking point at various “upfront” gatherings of US TV advertising executives in New York last month, with broadcasters demanding rights to make all episodes of any new TV series they pick up available on demand. Clearly, broadcasters need such rights to fend off competition from subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) providers such as Netflix and Hulu, but there’s more to it than satisfying consumers’ needs to watch TV on demand.
Content is king but viewers rule
Even after years of relentless disruption, the key driver of success in the TV business remains unchanged: great content that consumers love. But viewers expect to be able to watch content whenever they want and to control the viewing experience. Service providers not only need a technical ability to satisfy viewer demands on all platforms and devices, but the rights to exploit content across all these avenues.
Video-on-demand (VoD) rights are a must-have for traditional broadcasters, and negotiations around content have evolved in recent years to include new windowing strategies and concepts such as catch-up TV, box sets, and series stacking. In an unprecedented deal in March, Warner Bros. Television agreed to grant ABC streaming and on-demand rights to all episodes launching in the next two seasons. Previously, such deals only allowed the five most recent episodes to be made available.
Different forms of viewing will persist
This doesn’t mean that studios and broadcasters believe that linear TV is going to fade away. In-season stacking highlights a more nuanced understanding of how viewing differs by platform and how context drives consumers to watch particular types of content.
According to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report, ratings may be down, but linear TV still accounts for the majority of time spent with media – even among millennials. On-demand platforms are great for “binge watching” a particular show, but the challenge of finding and choosing something to watch can be frustrating when viewers just want to relax and unwind. This explains linear TV’s resilience in the face of technological change, especially for genres such as news, light entertainment, factual, and reality.
The mixed modes of in-season stacking
Understanding how different TV genres perform on each platform is critical. The serialised nature of drama is generally more suited to an on-demand service where viewers can binge. But enabling viewers to sample shows on demand thanks to in-season stacking can also lead them to start watching a series as it’s broadcast and enjoy a more social experience of TV.
In a world of nearly unlimited choice, the TV industry needs to accommodate existing and emerging forms of consumer behaviour and expectations to keep viewers satisfied. In-season stacking promises to not only satisfy consumers, but also bring together the growing number of ways people like to discover, watch, and enjoy TV.
Article by Robin Lake, Ovum principal analyst