Turner Broadcasting System’s TNT and TBS plan to stream all seven of their combined original summer series on their respective Websites. For the most part, they will be available the morning after they premiere on TV.
The shows—TNT’s The Closer, Heartland and Saving Grace, its limited series The Company, and TBS’ House of Payne, The Bill Engvall Show, My Boys and The Frank Show—will offer episodes online after they run on linear TV. They will launch on the networks’ Websites, TNT.tv and TBS.com, generally at 3 a.m. the next day and remain online for about a month.
Time Warner’s Turner networks are the first major entertainment cable networks to stream full series runs of pricey new scripted originals. Cable networks typically have had a harder time than their broadcast counterparts in streaming shows online because they have to get both the rights from studios and the go-ahead from cable operators. More targeted cable networks, including ABC Family and VH1, have been streaming full season runs of originals for a year or longer.
Operators have argued that cable networks’ streaming of shows lessens the amount of money the networks can command for carriage of their programming. Cable networks, unlike broadcast networks, earn revenue from carriage fees from the operators, in addition to advertising.
Turner negotiated streaming rights for its new series, including TBS sitcom House of Payne (distributed by Debmar-Mercury and produced by Tyler Perry) and TNT drama Heartland (Warner Bros.) at the time the network greenlighted them to series. The company has also gone back to the studios to negotiate rights for returning shows, like TNT’s The Closer (Warner Bros.), which will stream episodes online for the first time in this, its third season.
“From the studio side, it’s becoming part of the package of rights you’re willing and able to buy,” says Turner Entertainment Networks President Steve Koonin. “We take the streaming piece very seriously, and when we’re looking to greenlight series, this is something we push with the studios.”
Other cable networks are taking a more limited approach to streaming expensive scripted fare. Top-rated USA is streaming final episodes from previous seasons of original dramas The 4400 and The Dead Zone and just the premieres of new seasons of those shows, as well as of comedies Monk and Psych.
FX offered a couple of episodes of The Riches but, for the most part, doesn’t stream series. Sci Fi has streamed mostly premiere and finale episodes. A&E has not streamed episodes of its originals so far, E!, selected episodes as promotional stunts.
Broadcast and cable networks alike have fought to broker streaming deals with studios outside their corporate families. The studios have been wary of disrupting proven revenue streams by dipping a toe into the digital domain; they rely on DVD and syndication sales to make back the millions they front to the networks to fund the shows.
In addition to Turner’s online streaming, Comcast and Time Warner will offer its shows, except for the Fox-produced Saving Grace, for four weeks on video-on-demand starting the day after their TV premieres. Episodes of The Closer, Bill Engvall, My Boys and The Frank Show will be available on iTunes sometime after their TV runs.
Studios and operators may be more open to streaming because broadcast networks, and a few cable networks that have streamed shows, have seen that streaming actually builds TV viewing. Disney Channel, for example, inaugurated its broadband player last year by premiering an episode of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody online before its TV debut. That episode became the most-viewed in an entire block when it premiered on TV.
Other smaller cable networks have had similar success with early streaming endeavors. Young-skewing ABC Family drew Web audiences to full seasons of its originals - Kyle XY, Falcon Beach and Three Moons Over Milford - last summer and followed up this January with full runs of Lincoln Heights and Wildfire. VH1 began full series streaming with its in-house-produced show Web Junk 20 in January, 2006 and has since streamed full runs of 19 other series. Although studios may have feared losing out on cash from streaming, it’s becoming clear that the revenue the companies are bringing in is still minuscule. With more cable networks launching more original series than ever this summer, online streaming—especially for a limited time—is simply a way to build awareness around shows.
Says Jeff Gregor, chief marketing officer for TBS/TNT/TCM, “We want new viewers to come in, and, while we certainly want them to watch shows when we air them live, we want them to watch during encores and on-demand when and where appropriate.”