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ABC and Warner Bros.' New Deal Will Make Binge Watching Easier

Viewers come away big winners

The Middle is Warner Bros.' only ABC series, but the studio has two pilots in contention for next season. ABC/Craig Sjodin

Networks and studios have been battling for years over stacking rights—the ability to offer in-season episodes via on demand or network streaming—but a new agreement from ABC and Warner Bros. Television Group signals those conflicts could be coming to an end.

ABC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Television Group struck a stacking rights deal covering any series produced by Warner Bros. that debuts on ABC in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.

The agreement lets ABC offer all episodes of its Warner Bros. series launched during the next two seasons on its VOD platforms like ABC.com and Hulu, as well as VOD on multichannel video programming distributor partners like cable and satellite. In doing so, viewers will be able to binge the entire current season of the show instead of being restricted to only the last five episodes, as is currently the case for most series.

Warner Bros. will retain end-of-season SVOD rights, early syndication rights, early DVD rights and day-after electronic sell-through rights to companies like iTunes.

"This is a real win for network television viewers," said Jana Winograde, evp of business operations for ABC Entertainment, in a statement. "Giving our audience even more opportunities to catch up on their favorite shows in their entirety, on demand, only enhances their loyalty to and engagement with ABC and our series."

Added Craig Hunegs, president of business and strategy for Warner Bros. Television Group, in a statement: "For our studio, the more people watch our shows, the more valuable they become for us over the long run."

Hunegs' comment is important as it reflects a significant shift in studios' thinking regarding in-season stacking. They've pushed back against networks' previous efforts, as SVODs like Netflix have made it clear that they will pay less for any shows that have been stacked. Meanwhile, the inability to watch a full season prevents new viewers from jumping on board when a show gains momentum during the season.

Currently, Warner Bros. has only one scripted show on ABC: The Middle, which the network recently renewed for an eighth season. It also produces The Bachelor franchise, which comes from Warner Horizon Television, but neither series is included in today's deal. However, Warner Bros. has two pilots in contention for next season on ABC, including Time After Time, a time-traveling drama from Kevin Williamson.

Stacking deals are more common on shows produced by in-house studios, but are more rare on series from outside studios. Networks are increasingly gravitating to new shows that are produced by their in-house studios (in this case, ABC Studios) where they can also generate additional revenue from syndication and SVOD sales. Stacking deals like this one between ABC and Warner Bros. gives the network some additional incentive to pick up a series from a studio instead of relying on in-house productions.

Warner Bros. Television Group has more than 70 shows on the air this season, including all five broadcast networks: The Big Bang Theory (CBS), Blindspot (NBC), Gotham (Fox) and The Flash (The CW). This is the first stacking rights deal Warner Bros. Television Group has struck with a network, and it could pave the way for similar stacking agreements with other broadcasters moving forward.

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