Will the Release of Detailed VOD Data by CBS Start a Trend?

In a July 22nd, 2013, Fierce Cable post, Steve Donohue wrote about how CBS is breaking "ranks from fellow programmers by announcing that it will begin releasing ratings information which include data on viewing from cable video-on-demand and online video sites."

As most viewers know, video-on-demand (VOD) services exist across a wide spectrum of platforms - from pay-per-view - to titles offered for "free" to subscribers to a service (like HBO or Netflix) - and for "free" to online customers willing to sit through commercials (e.g., Hulu). But getting access to how well a film or TV show has done on VOD has been very difficult for the average fan or blogger.

Up until now,  VOD numbers have been shrouded in secrecy.

Certainly, some people have had access to that data. For example, the studios and other big content aggregators that provide films and TV series to VOD outlets regularly receive data from cable and satellite providers - showing how well their content has performed on VOD. And Rentrak is a service that provides VOD reports - but only to companies that pay a handsome price for its services tracking VOD through surveys etc.

For the most part, the average consumer or filmmaker has had no idea what content is working on VOD week-to-week.

Unlike theatrical box office numbers (which are regularly pored over by movie fans each week), no industry-wide report about VOD is regularly released to the public.

This lack of sytematic VOD data - as VOD has exploded, becoming an increasingly important source of revenue, especially for indie films that may never see a theatrical release - has been a source of frustration for fans, reporters, and bloggers.

And it isn't just reporters and avid fans who want to know what content is connecting on VOD. Producers want to understand the market - and to measure how their films are doing on all key platforms. And marketing execs have been very frustrated that their projects's successes on VOD aren't objectively reported - denying them the opportunity to use that success as the basis for marketing campaigns in other (foreign?) markets.

Nevertheless... big content companies have been quite happy to keep the rest of us in the dark about how much money they're making on VOD.

Now that secrecy around VOD data may be about to change.

This week, as reported by Fierce Cable, CBS acknowledged that Under The Dome (which premiered in June 2013) "generated 1.6 million video-on-demand views in the first 22 days after its initial broadcast. The program also generated 484,542 views through online video streaming."

Why is CBS making this data publicly available?

The VOD info about Under The Dome - assuming it is accurate and complete - appears to be part of a campaign by CBS to extract larger license fees from cable operators for the re-transmission of over-the-air signals. These so-called carriage fees are an area that traditional broadcast networks have identified as a potential source of increased revenue. But to get more money out of cable operators, the broadcasters are going to have to lift the veil and release data that (up till now) has been closely held - proving that their content is a large part of what cable and satellite subscribers want to access.

As reported in the July 20th, 2013 Wall Street Journal: "[CBS] has told investors it plans to roughly quadruple the so-called retransmission revenue it receives from pay-TV operators to $1 billion by 2017, translating to about $1.20 to $1.25 a subscriber per month, according to analyst estimates."

(Frequent visitors to this blog may recall that I've written previously about Aereo, a new service that the networks have identified as an existential threat to their retransmission revenue.)

"Cable networks like ESPN and TNT have long collected carriage fees from pay-TV operators, but over-the-air broadcasters have been doing so only for the past several years. The majority of their revenue still comes from advertising. Now, TV station owners, from CBS and ABC to big owners of network affiliates like Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., are pushing hard to boost their carriage rates to the level of cable networks."

Thanks to Ted Hope for the link.

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