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Networks are fighting for your binging, bloodshot eyeballs

Randy Wade/Flickr via Creative Commons

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To all of you who don’t watch TV shows one episode at a time, but instead spend an entire Sunday glued to your screens motionless, emotionally numb, bits of pretzels casually accumulating in your sheets as you watch entire seasons at a time, well, you are causing a huge fight in the TV world. 

“Definitely a lot of negotiating and conflict,” said Ashwin Navin, CEO of Samba TV, a media and analytics firm. 

Traditionally when a network bought a show from a studio, it could broadcast the season’s episodes, but it couldn’t stream them for binge watching. At most, they would put up four or five episodes, but not the entire current season. Why was it this way?  Because your bloodshot, binging, addicted eyeballs are valuable.  

“What studios would like to do is preserve as much audience as possible to sell to other distributors downstream,” said Navin.    

Studios want to sell shows to TV networks to broadcast, and then later, they want to sell the same show to streaming services like Netflix for bingers and late comers. And streaming services aren’t so interested in buying shows that have already been available via streaming for an entire season.

But these days, networks want it all. They want to broadcast a season and stream it at the same time — all of it. Not only does it capture future binging audiences, but it allows late comers to become acquainted with a show and catch up with everyone else.

“They don’t want people waiting a year, cord cutting and saying, ‘I’ll just get a Netflix subscription and I’ll wait and binge watch it’,” said Susan Akens, director of  UCLA law’s Ziffren Center for Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law.

Networks are using all of their muscle in negotiations with studios to get the rights to let you binge watch current seasons  now — with their ads of course. So far, networks including ABC and NBC have been pretty successful, refusing to pick up shows that don’t come with streaming rights for the current season (the official name for this is ‘in-season stacking rights’). If this trend continues, said Erik Brannon with IHS media, “it’s very safe to say the networks will win.” 

Despite everything you’ve heard about the decline of TV networks, their checks are still fat enough that they can dictate some rules. And for the most impatient bingers out there, that appears to be a good thing. 

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