Network TV: Now Taking DVD Sloppy Seconds

It's television distribution in reverse.

With all the activities of the last several weeks, one would have finally thought TV networks were forward-thinking in terms of on-demand programming deals with Apple iTunes Music Store, DirecTV, or Comcast's On-Demand Service.

Then Fox makes an about face--of sorts.

One of Fox's new episodes of cult hit "Family Guy" that will air in the new year will be one that has been already out for months on DVD.

"Family Guy" is that sly animation show that originally aired on the network back in 1999 (with the hope of adding to Fox's portfolio of adult animated shows), then went off the air due to microscopic ratings. But a strong underground fan base helped bring it back with new DVD episodes, as well as a run on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim late-night block. This year Fox was convinced it could bring back the show to the network with original episodes--a rare occurrence in TV land.



Considering the current world of TV viewing, with still constant audience erosion, Fox is making a calculated gamble that the bigger and broader viewing world of broadcast TV hasn't seen this one particular DVD episode--an episode which initially targeted a narrow niche of rabid fans. (To be fair, Fox is adding some additional content to this one episode). Fox's argument is the same as when smaller distributed HBO or Showtime shows--"Sex and the City," "Sopranos," "The Larry Sanders Show"--get bigger distribution.

Even with the new proposed alternative on-demand business deals, there is still a sliver of exclusivity in being on broadcast first--even if it's only hours before. Will viewers care if broadcast networks get sloppy seconds? As NBC has said in promoting its summer reruns, "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you."

Some years from now when one network is running video blogs in prime time-- (already seen initially on the Internet) those shows will be getting what seems like small 1.0 ratings with adult 18-49 viewers. This will be followed by a 1967 episode of "F Troop."

But don't despair, my TV executives: these shows will have that one network win the night.

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