September 19, 2006
CBS/Comcast Deal for Ad-Supported VOD Content

Last week, I wrote about my wife's anger at the Comcast VOD platform when she decided to check out an episode of CSI in high-definition for a fee and then was shocked to find regular clusters of 30-second spots, no different than if she watched the episode when it aired. I guess it is just the iTunes model that has caused everyone to expect that, if they are paying a subscription fee or a per-item fee for content on-demand, there shouldn't be any commercials involved.

On the other hand, I'm assuming that Comcast found some profit in the advertisement model with its on-demand because they announced last week, in a co-release with CBS, that they would begin offering CBS programs through VOD with advertising support but without a fee.

According to Thursday's announcement, CBS will make eight of its regular series available through free downloads. These include the three popular CSI shows, those pervasive crime investigation shows that act as a major packaged force when branching into new platforms as they did with iTunes this summer; the popular reality series Survivor and Big Brother; and drama series NCIS, Numb3rs, and Jericho.

The Comcast VOD episodes for CBS did cost $.99 an episode, only in markets served by affiliates owned directly by CBS , to avoid the continued problem that some affiliates have with losing revenue from VOD and other multi-platform sales.

CBS will sell the commercial spots for its VOD programming, which will be initially made available the day after a show airs and will remain online for the next four weeks.

This parallels announcements last week with ABC and NBC to provide many of its shows online for four weeks following initial broadcasts. The idea is that viewers who want to get caught back up or to time shift their viewing of primetime content can use these new platforms instead of just stopping their consumption of the show.

My prediction is that viewers will be fine with the commercials in this case, as long as there is not an additional purchasing fee for the VOD content. Otherwise, it's a win-win situation, giving more profit to content providers and more autonomy over when and how one views for consumers.