Comcast Corp. has added prime-time television series from Fox and ABC to its video-on-demand service, becoming the first pay-television provider to offer episodes of current programs from all four major TV networks: ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.
The move recognizes that consumers no longer are adhering to the old-school prime-time TV schedules that have long dictated how millions of TV viewers spend their evenings. Consumers instead have embraced digital video recorders and services like Hulu, Netflix and Apple Inc.'s iTunes so they can watch TV programs on their own timetable.
"The television networks are trying to get more people to watch their programming — without skipping the ads — so they can get paid for those views," said Derek Baine, cable television analyst with SNL Kagan.
For Comcast — which generates the bulk of its revenue by piping TV and Internet service into people's homes — the enhanced VOD offering is a way to keep up with the shift in viewing habits. Beginning Thursday, the nation's largest television provider will offer its nearly 20 million digital customers episodes of ABC's "Castle" and "Grey's Anatomy" and Fox programs including "Glee," "Bones," "Hell's Kitchen" and "Family Guy" on its Xfinity TV On-Demand service the day after the episodes air on the networks.
Comcast's well-stocked video-on-demand service is designed to get an edge on satellite TV and phone company competitors as well as Netflix, which primarily offers older episodes of TV programs, and Internet service Hulu, which offers current episodes from three of the four networks. CBS does not supply its programming to Hulu.
"This makes us different from any of our competitors," Marcien Jenckes, Comcast's general manager of video services, said in an interview. "People are still watching the majority of TV on the TV. This points to the growth and the potential of our video-on-demand service."
Hulu is falling out of favor with large media companies — including those that own the online site such as NBCUniversal. That's because the networks have been battling cable companies to extract fees in exchange for carrying their broadcast programming. Cable and satellite operators have been loath to pay programmers for the same shows that Hulu offers free.
"You are seeing a shift away from Hulu," SNL's Baine said. "Everyone is worried about cord-cutting, and the cable companies would like to keep all their content behind this walled garden as opposed to giving it away for free on the Internet."
Comcast's Xfinity TV On Demand service will have about 600 television programs, including 32 of the top 50 network prime-time hits, Jenckes said. The networks will offer the four most recent episodes from those series to Comcast's on-demand service, allowing viewers to catch up on episodes they might have missed.
There is no additional cost to subscribers, Jenckes said. Comcast allows the networks to set the number of commercials contained in their episodes and keep the advertising revenue.
The initiative, Jenckes said, makes the Comcast service the most robust of any pay-TV provider. Comcast also is in discussions with film studios to offer recently released movies on its Xfinity On Demand service. Comcast launched its video-on-demand platform eight years ago and is on track to top 20 billion streams in May. The Philadelphia company also owns 51% of NBCUniversal.