Comcast Corp. signed a deal with Time Warner Inc. ‘s Turner Broadcasting to add full seasons of several TV shows to its on-demand offerings, advancing the cable giant’s push to be a premiere destination for catch-up TV viewing along with online services like Hulu and Netflix.
The pact, which is expected to be announced Tuesday, will give users of Comcast’s Xfinity on-demand service access to the current and past seasons of shows on Turner networks including TNT, TBS, CNN, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network and truTV. The deal covers shows made by Turner’s networks, not reruns of shows from other networks.
Offering all episodes of current seasons, a process known in the industry as “stacking” a season, has been a major focus for Comcast. Traditionally, cable operators have offered a handful of the most recent episodes on-demand, but Comcast is trying to beef up its offering to satisfy consumers who increasingly want to binge or catch up on entire seasons of shows.
With the Turner deal, Comcast says it now offers the full current season of more than 400 shows, up from a handful two years ago. “The vast majority of the value, we believe, is in the current season,” said Matthew Strauss, senior vice president of video services at Comcast. “More and more programmers are leaning into on-demand.”
Comcast says 70% of its subscriber base now uses video-on-demand service at least once a month.
Facing ratings struggles at networks such as TNT, Turner believes it can enlarge its audiences by making their current seasons fully available through on-demand services. David Levy, president of Turner Broadcasting, said users who hear buzz around a show once it has aired its seventh or eighth episodes will be able to catch up easily.
“The opportunity to go back and invest time and energy in a show is a key element,” Mr. Levy said. “It’s important for the growth of our new programming.”
Comcast also points to evidence that making full current seasons available on-demand drives up traditional TV ratings. Viewership of CBS’s “The Good Wife” jumped 25% year-over-year in Comcast households this season after the cable operator began stacking the season’s episodes on-demand, while the show’s ratings fell 14% in non-Comcast households, according to the company’s analysis of Nielsen data. FX’s “The Americans” got an 18% lift in Comcast households after offering all the latest season’s episodes, compared with a 29% drop in non-Comcast households.
The content going to Comcast from TNT includes “The Last Ship,” a forthcoming drama from Michael Bay, and post-apocalyptic thriller “Falling Skies.” TBS’s offerings include “CeeLo Green’s The Good Life,” and from CNN there is “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown.”
TV content owners also are selling their programming to streaming services Netflix Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Hulu LLC. Netflix has expressed concerns about Comcast getting into the binge-viewing game, saying that by adding more full seasons of shows it is reducing the value of that content. As a result, Netflix has told some TV content owners it may not be willing to pay as much to license their content.
Mr. Strauss says that if higher cable on-demand viewing boosts ratings of TV shows—as its research has found—that should actually increase the value of the content for Netflix or other streaming players, rather than lowering it.
The Comcast-Turner agreement also provides a new way to sell ads in on-demand TV content that is viewed more than three days after it airs—the time frame covered by standard ad deals in the TV industry. More than half of on-demand viewing happens after the first three days.
Using “dynamic ad insertion” technology, Turner will be able to easily swap in new ads on the fourth day or later—on TV, as well as on tablets and smartphones—selling that inventory just like an online ad. Some 40 TV networks have similar ad partnerships with Comcast.
The inventory available from the deal will be part of what Turner offers advertisers at this spring’s “upfront” ad sales market, which is kicking off this week. Turner meets advertisers on Wednesday to preview its coming programming.
Mr. Strauss said Comcast also has the ability to put the same ads that run on TV when a show airs into all earlier episodes available on-demand. That way, a marketer could run a spot for everyone watching any episode of a given show, instead of only targeting those watching the latest episode. “You’d move from selling an episode to selling a series,” he said.