The television landscape has changed markedly since ABC joined The Walt Disney Company in 1996, and ongoing technological advances and shifts in audience viewing habits ensure that the industry is constantly evolving. As consumers make “binge viewing” and “on-demand” content an increasing priority, Disney’s media networks have reinforced their commitment to bringing world-class entertainment to viewers in the new ways they’re choosing to experience them. Last week, Disney|ABC Television Group’s ABC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Television Group announced an unprecedented stacking rights deal that makes all episodes of a Warner Bros. series available on demand in a variety of ways—rather than the current practice of limiting availability to only the trailing five in-season episodes. The new deal applies to new series from Warner Bros. Television Group debuting on ABC in the 2016–17 and the 2017–18 seasons.
“In allowing us to make all of the episodes of a Warner Brothers series available on demand in a variety of ways (including our own ABC digital platforms, Hulu and cable/satellite set-top-box on-demand services), this deal takes a huge step toward achieving the ease of navigation that our consumers now require,” Jana Winograde, executive vice president, Business Operations, ABC Entertainment, says. The scope of the deal is significant, she adds: “The real win here was our ability to secure stacking rights for our cable and satellite distributors who will now be able to have the current season of episodes up on their on-demand platform. We actually achieved a very widespread footprint for the stacking.”
Most series produced by ABC Studios are currently stacked on Hulu, but the “rolling 5” rule has previously hindered consumers from sampling many new shows that have piqued their interest. If a show was more than five episodes into season, a viewer’s options were to buy individual episodes or series on iTunes, waiting until they could catch up the next season through a streaming on-demand service like Netflix or Amazon—or never watch at all. “Through tests we’ve done with isolated shows, most recently Quantico, we’ve found that widespread stacking availability on multichannel VOD and Hulu actually increases the total viewership and also brings people back to watch on ABC,” Winograde explains. She also points out that allowing the series to be stacked on Hulu and cable providers’ on-demand offerings boosts advertising inventory, creating additional opportunity for the network.
The priority, of course, is reaching consumers who have more viewing choices than ever before. “In 2009, there were more than 200 scripted original series in the TV ecosystem; today, between broadcast, cable and SVOD, that number has doubled to more than 400 original scripted series,” Winograde says. “In this fractionalized environment, where there are so many choices regarding what, where and how to watch, it’s imperative that our programming be everywhere that viewers might find it—with easy navigation—and that they have access to all episodes, which is often how they choose to watch.”
ABC and Warner Bros.’ deal follows the recent announcement that Sony PlayStation Vue is launching “Slim” bundles that include ESPN and other Disney channels. Winograde says, “The Vue deal was completed last fall by the Disney & ESPN affiliate sales team and is another great example of how we as a company are focused on making our channels and content available to consumers in new ways and on new services.”