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Free TV Prioritising Binging for US Shows


Liam Costello Senior Manager

The presence of video streaming services in global markets is fast changing the consumption habits and expectations of audiences. With so much content now available, there is a growing demand for all episodes of scripted TV series to become available immediately at launch for binge viewing (i.e. Boxsetting). As viewing continues to move into the digital space and away from traditional linear channels, content acquired by Free TV is increasingly being offered to audiences with enhanced Stacking or Boxset rights.

D2C services are using different release strategies with some reluctance to drop all content at once. Disney+ released its tentpole Marvel titles ‘WandaVision’ and 'Loki’ weekly and the AppleTV+ success ‘Ted Lasso’ is currently mid-way through its second season. The weekly release of episodes in place of a full Boxset may help to reduce churn from customers who hold an interest in just one or a few titles, but it is also an effective way of encouraging on-going engagement with the service through weekly tune-in.

In a recent article we looked at the partnerships between Free TV services to create and develop new TV series, and their collaboration on new SVOD services to add an additional pillar to their business model, with a revenue stream to further monetise their content.

Keeping pace with the evolving demands of audiences, Free TV channels have increased the amount of catch-up availability with first window US acquisitions. Show Tracker reveals that whilst in 2018 the standard was a rolling 5 episodes with 50% of new releases, this now accounts for just 8% of premieres, with stacking the dominant offer (44%)

Over the same two years and comparing a like-for-like January to July period, there has been fewer new series premieres on Free TV (or as online exclusives via their adjacent digital services) in 2021 so far. Some Show Tracker markets have historically either little or no activity from Free TV buyers (e.g. India and Mexico), but in markets where Free TV is competitive in first windows there is reduced activity.

Stacking is the more common exploitation of titles by Free TV but there are examples of broadcasters releasing content as online exclusives. In the UK the BBC has premiered two shows this year firstly on the iPlayer - WarnerMedia’s ‘Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists’ and ‘The Watch’, a BBC America commission distributed internationally by themselves.

Channel 4 has also premiered a show exclusively on its AVOD platform All4 (‘Party of Five’ from Sony). Elsewhere there is activity in Australia and Canada, but overall the numbers are lagging somewhat behind 2020’s total online exclusives count of 16.

Free TV buyers in Australia have decreased notably year-on-year with just five acquisitions so far in 2021 compared with 13 at the same point last year. Australia was the leading market for online exclusives in 2020 with broadcaster digital services such as SBS On Demand, ABC iView and 7Plus all premiering new US TV shows. This year just 9Now has premiered brand new content online (‘Almost Family’ and ‘Resident Alien’ from NBCUniversal, with whom they have a content deal).

Enhanced catch-up has now become the norm for Free TV buyers as they offer flexibility for audiences to watch a TV series at their convenience, but in premiering weekly episodes first on the linear channel they still seek to encourage appointment to view.

Despite this, there are instances of Free TV buyers taking shows with either little or no catch-up at all. Most recently ‘Trial & Error’ has been acquired by ProSieben’s Primetime channel in Germany and ‘Stargirl’ by public broadcaster RAI in Italy, both TV shows offered on the linear channel with no catch-up.

US distributors may remain open to selling a short first window in an international market for a number of reasons - preceding an upcoming D2C launch of their own in the market for instance. Such short deals can be of equal benefit to a buyer who can offer a premium drama series at a potentially lower cost.

We can expect the level of enhanced catch-up in first window offerings to continue to grow in future as the fragmentation of viewing takes audiences further from linear schedule driven TV and into the digital space.

Show Tracker is an essential tool for the TV industry, which monitors where TV shows are being sold around the world and the rights attached to each deal. Tracking over 1,000 TV shows and 330 different services in over 17 markets, it provides a unified view of the distribution market. Show Tracker gives you data you can trust to drive your strategy forward and give you the edge in negotiations.

Find out more about Show Tracker

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