TV Online: Why Networks Still Don’t Get It

I want my ABC...  Photo credit: ABC

I want my ABC…
Photo credit: ABC

Last night, a few hours before the latest episode of my favorite TV doctor drama was going to air a new episode, I realized that I’d missed last week’s episode and, being the loyal viewer that I am, I should probably catch up before watching the new one live.

ABC used to have one of the best and most straightforward sites that seemed to understand this need. They used to offer the last 4-5 episodes for free on their site. Recently (January 2014) they started blocking the latest episode for 8 days after viewing.

8 days? That’s the one that puzzles me. It means you are specifically blocking users who missed an episode from catching up to their favorite series before the next new episode airs the following week.

I get it that networks want viewers to watch episodes as they air. It’s better for rating and better for advertisers. But I have two arguments against this logic:

First: the limit gets the exact opposite result. Instead of allowing me to catch up and view the next episode live (as they want) they are telling me to just not watch live until there is a week where they don’t air a new episode. Bottom line: lower ratings for the show. (A quick look at US ratings this season show that the average rating before the switch, 12 episodes, was 8.72 million viewers and the average rating after the switch, 6 episodes, was 8.30 million viewers but there are too few data points for this to be significant.)

Second: isn’t it about time advertisers stop looking at live ratings as the only ratings? There are so many ways to watch TV shows today that are not live: online, Netflix, Pay TV, cable apps, etc. For web viewing, where ads are shown, they seem to be fewer than the live show and more repetitive. Why don’t advertisers see web viewings as a more legitimate media? Cram more ads in there if you wish. You’ve got a captive audience!

Final note: as I was writing this blog post this morning Re/code showed me that I am not alone in my need to catch up. My only gripe with this post is that Re/code thinks that “ since it’s 2014, the TV guys have learned to live with catch-up viewing.” I beg to differ. They haven’t.

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