Comcast Corp. this week will add 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 television 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.
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. The nation's largest television provider will offer its nearly 20 million customers episodes of ABC's "Castle" and "Grey's Anatomy," and Fox's hit 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.
The new offerings become available Thursday.
Comcast's amped-up 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. (Comcast also owns a minority interest in 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."
Comcast's Xfinity TV On Demand service will have 32 of the top 50 network prime-time programs, Jenckes said. The networks will offer the four most recent episodes from those series to the 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 launched its video-on-demand platform eight years ago and is on track to top 20 billion streams in May.
CBS has offered episodes of its shows to Comcast's video-on-demand service since 2006. Comcast recently added NBC programming. The Philadelphia-based company owns 51% of NBCUniversal.
-- Meg James
Photo of Peter Griffin, Brian the dog and a genetically engineered cow on Fox's "Family Guy." Credit: Fox