Viewers have been binging since Thanksgiving Day on Suits, and USA Network is hoping they'll
still be hungry when the second half of the series second season starts Jan.
Working with nearly all of its distribution partners, USA
arranged to have all 22 already-aired episodes of Suits available for free on video on demand. They've also been
available for streaming at USAnetwork.com and on Hulu.
The object of enabling such a binge-a-thon is to give viewers
a second chance to get hooked on the serialized lawyer drama from the beginning
and, as of last week, more than six million episodes have been viewed.
"In terms of sheer sampling, this has been a runaway success
for us," says Alexandra Shapiro, executive VP for marketing at USA. "That's a
massive number. Let's just say we convert 20% of those people now to come back
and watch us [when new episodes resume.] That would be for us a huge success."
She adds that USA's strategy appears to be working because
viewers seem to be watching older episodes first, with 57% of the content
consumed coming from season one and the remaining 43% coming from season two.
About 62% of the viewing was via VOD, with 38% coming via streaming.
Suits has been one
of USA's most watched series already, averaging nearly six million total
viewers during 2012, ranking it sixth among original cable series.
Shapiro says that when it comes to marketing TV, letting
people see for themselves how good a show is beats telling them. And making
previously aired episodes available has given a big boost to series such as Mad Men, Downton Abbey and Breaking
Bad, she says. "Enabling binge watching for all three of those franchises is
the difference between OK ratings and stratospheric ratings," she said.
already generates high ratings, she wouldn't predict that the binge-a-thon
would have a similar effect. But she said her goal was to strengthen the Suits franchise over the long term and
that the network decided to do this now, while the series was young, rather
than wait till later in the show's life.
For Mad Men and Breaking Bad, the boost came when past
episodes were made available via Netflix, which pays a shows owner big fees to
stream the shows. But Shapiro says that this holiday season stunt won't prevent
Suits from someday being bought by
subscription VOD steamers like Netflix and Amazon.
USA's move is especially suited for a breed of viewer that
prefers to watch shows -- particularly serialized dramas in a marathon fashion.
"There are people who literally this is the only way they
watch. And we can't ignore it. They want to binge watch," Shapiro. "This is
probably the only tactic you have to reach them." Shapiro says that on an
anecdotal basis, holiday periods, such as Thanksgiving weekend and the stretch
between Christmas and New Year's Day, are some of the biggest binge-watching
period. That's when people have time to catch up with series that they've
either let lapse or have simply never sampled, she said.
Many viewers are reluctant to jump into a serialized series
in the middle, no matter how good it sounds. "By availing all 22 episodes to
date we in essence took away that being a factor or a deterrent for people to
sample the show," Shapiro says.
The episodes will stop being available after the first new
episode airs on Jan. 18. "This has had a long run, and at that point you really
want to drive viewers back to the mother ship," she says.
The stunt became the centerpiece of USA's midseason marketing
for Suits. "It gave us an anchor
around which to focus all of our messaging," she said. "We had paid media in
the marketplace to drive to this. It was primarily as digital effort and all of
our social efforts brought this marathon to life by using the dialog and
imagery from the episodes."
The push also got crucial support from cable operators and
other distributors that was very targeted.
"You really can't go and buy that off the shelf. You have to create these compelling offerings
to get that kind of support from these MSOs," Shapiro says.
USA had this binge idea too late to draw sponsors for the
event. But the viewership it's generating should make it attractive to
advertisers in the future.
"These are the things that advertisers should absolutely
hitch their cart to. It makes total sense," Shapiro says. "I think the only
barrier to entry in aligning advertisers in the VOD space has been the lack of
dynamic ad insertion. As you know in 2013 that's going to be a moot point.
Every cable operator will have dynamic ad insertion and so when these amazing
opportunities happen, I think the smart advertisers will recognize their value
and want to align themselves."