What If CBS Had A Mini-Binge Online?

I watched the premiere of “Hostages” on CBS on Monday, knowing not much more about it than what the promos told me. It was entertaining, in a not-quite-pushing-the-envelope way that broadcast television still insists on casting and writing its dramas. And it’s hard to figure out how that poor family can be kept hostage for five years, which is still the signature of a very successful series.  

But it made me wonder.

Airing against the premiere of NBC’s similar drama, “The Blacklist” (which did better in the ratings ultimately) it would have seemed to me that CBS could have taken a stride into the future by allowing viewers to stream several episodes of “Hostages” at one time—to binge on a prime time network show--for a limited time. There would have been a risk involved, but I’m assuming CBS thinks it has a hit franchise.

If that is so, letting viewers get, oh, six episodes streamed somewhere with a few commercials (but not the full-boat primetime load) would have gotten CBS some major publicity and probably several million viewers. Some percentage of those would have become little word-of-mouth ambassadors for the series. They would have talked, tweeted and zeeboxed, but it seems to me, binge viewers seem honorable enough not to spill the beans to the non-binge types. Is “spoiler alert” now in the dictionary, by the way?



I don’t think viewers who saw myriad pre-premiere airings of primetime shows greatly deflated their overall audience. Sneak preview opportunities are as plentiful as disc jockeys offering free tickets are willing to take the twelfth caller.  

But a mini-binge of “Hostages” would have covered CBS on the Mondays to come when ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” or baseball playoffs might/will surely siphon off some viewers. If that also means it would have given a free path to “The Blacklist” on NBC and other series,well... maybe. There is a downside to everything.

But, you say, and probably have been saying since about the second paragraph “House of Cards” was on a pay service. Netflix wasn’t sacrificing advertising dollars.

Well, CBS would have been sacrificing some, though recent research says people who start DVRing series end up watching them live in short order. Ditto, possibly, with “Hostages.” Maybe after three weeks, they’d be hooked to watch the rest on regular TV.

And for the ones who missed it for whatever reason, I would presume this would be one of the better known catch-up promotions in the history of TV.   

But if the binge offering stopped in time for November sweeps, and the show was good enough, “Hostages” could have been built a huge wave of interest in time for the November sweeps. That’s just at the time it wants it—though for the life of me, I can’t understand why there still are sweeps in the first place. (I hope the viewers in Boise appreciate what those of us in big overnight market cities do for them.)

In the process, the mini-binge would have been a great way for networks and advertisers to find out better real-time information about how people use TV and streaming.

They know some of it already: according to recent Nielsen data, 88% of Netflix users say they’ve watched three or more episodes of something on that service in the past. Wouldn’t any newly launched series want that kind of head start?

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