Broadcast Network Broadband Video Forays

The broadcast networks and their parent companies are in the throes of developing responsible fiscal strategies to exploit their content in our ever-changing, evolving digital universe. Whether we credit Disney Chairman Bob Iger (iTunes) or News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch (MySpace acquisition) for throwing down the gauntlet in the second half of 2005 by challenging its executives as well as competitors to pursue untested digital distribution methodologies, which in theory could undercut their traditional revenue-generating practices, the media business has never been the same.

Each broadcast network has taken a unique approach to the distribution of its video content in the broadband realm and, for that matter, other video distribution platforms as well - whether multi-channel pay TV (cable, satellite, telco), wireless, and video devices and services:

ABC has focused its broadband video strategy on driving viewers to its site to view Disney/ABC/ESPN produced content.



CBS chose to develop non-exclusive distribution deals to bring its content to potential viewers wherever they viewed video on the web.

Fox's broadband efforts have focused on driving traffic to its affiliate websites to support its television endeavors.

NBC has pursued a policy of ubiquity on the Web as well as with other digital media platforms for its content.

Hulu's goal is to establish itself as the broadband video destination of choice satisfying the older TV viewers that happen to venture onto the web as well as to attract younger users with its "hip", clean, social networking, video-centric capabilities.

At this juncture, there is very little data that has been shared concerning the efficacy of the aforementioned broadcast networks' video broadband forays i.e., viewing, interaction (content and advertising) and research (onsite, cross platform). Each broadcaster's model consists of an admixture of video (pre-roll, mid-roll, embedded), advertising overlays, links (interactive ads and social networks), expandable applications, and of course, unique propositions (look and feel).

Some observations, thoughts and questions to ponder as their platforms evolve and modifications are implemented:


Similar to the role pornography played in accelerating the adoption of new technology, i.e., VCRS and the web, popular broadcast network programs have assumed an identical role in enticing television viewers, particularly older TV viewers, to visit the web to view video:

  • The most popular broadcast network TV shows to drive traffic to their broadband destinations include:

  • ABC: "Desperate Housewives," "Grey's Anatomy," "Lost"

  • CBS: "CSI," "Survivor"

  • Fox: "Prison Break," "24"

  • NBC: "Law & Order," "The Office," "30 Rock"

  • The primary motivation for viewing TV programs on a broadcast network's Web site is to catch up on missed episodes from favorite series.

  • The majority of programs populating broadcast network Web sites are produced by in-house or affiliated corporate entities.

  • Upwards of 20 prime-time series - each four to five episodes each - are available at any one time on the broadcast network Web sites. The broadcast networks must expand their online video menu to include more current prime-time TV series, whether from independent production entities or rival networks. Also, the broadcast networks must encourage sampling of their programming by making available programs from their inception (pilot) forward rather than limiting themselves to the latest four or five episodes based upon premiere dates.

  • The majority of viewers that visit broadcast network sites do not view user-generated content.

  • The traction that the broadcasters have garnered with their broadband forays can be irreparably stultified if the writer's strike continues and no new episodes of current hit series are produced and new original series not introduced.

  • And of course, one of the most pressing questions about viewing video, particularly full-length broadcast network TV programs online is: Would viewers rather watch TV programs on a small screen if the choice is available of watching on a significantly larger one and convenience is not an issue.

  • Distribution & Destination

    At present, there are two prevailing philosophies concerning broadcast network broadband destinations: drive traffic to one destination, such as or even to TV network broadcast affiliates i.e., Fox; or mass distribution of content as in the CBS Audience Network model, whose mantra is to bring the content to audiences wherever they are in an environment that speaks to its user in a unique fashion. There is not enough research to suggest which will prevail. However, early studies concerning the efficacy of broadcast network and content provider attempts at implementing the mass distribution model indicate that the broadcasters are still deriving 90% of their traffic from their self-named destination rather than partner pure-play Web sites, as is the case with the CBS Audience Network and


  • Do viewers of broadcast network TV programming online wish to view all of their video on one destination, or similarly on on-air TV viewing, will they opt to sample 14 channels, or sites in this case, on a regular basis to satiate their video consumption needs.

  • Can there be enough programming in one destination, à la Hulu, to attract sufficient audience to develop a sustainable relationship between it and its audience and generate enough attention to glean advertiser support.

  • Should broadcast networks offer opportunities for viewers to purchase their programming on their sites to further engage consumers in their value proposition. Presently, viewers of programming on broadcast network sites cannot download shows, save them, put them on their iPods or burn them to DVDs. They can only be watched in streamed, real time.

  • Can the broadcast networks and their TV station groups and affiliates work out mutually beneficial financial and promotional arrangements that enable both parties to symbiotically benefit from each other's digital forays rather than, as in the past, one side, usually the affiliates, feeling exploited by their corporate brethren.


    At present, the majority of advertisers that support the broadcasters' Web sites migrate their 30-second TV commercial over to the Web without modification and therefore do not take advantage of the Web's interactive attributes. Advertisers need to develop online video and interactive campaigns that exploit its inherent, communicative value proposition.

    Also, unlike the TV model where multiple marketers have advertisements appear in the same program, the broadband model allows one advertiser to be the sole sponsor of a program. Oftentimes, the same commercial is aired upwards of four times within a 45-minute program thereby overexposing the viewer to the same marketing message. Advertisers must monitor the effect of repetitive airings within a concentrated time period to avoid negative fallout.

    Given all of the program viewing choices and platforms available in the digital universe, broadcasters should develop cross-media platforms that enable advertisers to associate with specific programming regardless of the distribution mechanism i.e., TV, broadband, wireless video devices and services.


    Very little data is available from the broadcast networks about the viewing habits of their online constituency. Answers and questions to be addressed include:

  • The majority of broadcast network broadband program viewing takes place during primetime TV hours (10pm East Coast Time and 7pm West Coast). How will broadband viewing of programs cannibalize on air TV viewing, if at all.

  • Is there a correlation between catch up episodic viewing and on air viewing. If so, will that have a positive or negative effect on advertising revenue generation.

  • Since one of the major attractions of visiting broadcast network sites is to catch up on missed episodes, do viewers sample other programs after their appointment viewing.

  • Viewers of broadcast network broadband programming have indicated that the predominant reason for viewing is catching up on missed episodes of their favorite TV shows. How does the availability of network programs on video devices (iPods, Amazon UnBox, Microsoft's Xbox), pure play destinations (AOL, Joost, Yahoo, Google) and home video (DVDs) impact on overall viewing of broadcast network TV programming.

  • Should there be a de facto measurement source for broadband video similar to a Nielsen in the TV marketplace. Broadcasters are grappling with third party discrepancies, as well as Nielsen NetRatings and comScore, in reporting audience delivery. Oftentimes the broadcaster's ad servers versus third-party ad servers, such as DoubleClick or Atlas, show a variance of 10%, which ultimately, translates into the broadcasters aggregating less ad dollars and advertising agencies gleaning less commissionable dollars.

  • How are programs viewed online. In the television realm, viewers who do not own DVRs regulate their viewing pattern by commercial interruptions. In the online video realm, where VCR functionality is an unalienable right, how will video consumption evolve and how will the broadcast networks exploit these patterns. As an example, preliminary usage studies indicate that, on average, viewers pause once during a session; however, the broadcast networks do not know the duration or the motivation. This information would provide valuable directional learnings.

  • Should people visiting broadcast network video destinations be required to register in order to view the content. Although a registration process might suppress viewership, the information gleaned could be of significant value to marketers, and therefore allow the networks to make up for any quantitative deficiency by the quality and information about their demographic and psychographic compositions.

    In closing, to date there is a dearth of information shared by the broadcast networks pertaining to their video forays. Hopefully, this will not always remain the case and collectively, the media community will be able to garner its collective intelligence to figure out how best to serve the consumer, which ultimately, would bring greater profit, financial and emotional, to all participants.

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