ABC Touts the Power of VOD While Decrying Its Inability to Fully Monetize It

On-demand viewing on the rise, watching more of each episode

Headshot of Jason Lynch

ABC has a love-hate relationship with video on demand: The network loves the young, affluent and highly engaged audience but hates the fact that VOD viewers can't be fully monetized using Nielsen's current measurement tools.

VOD took center stage today at an Advertising Week session in New York where ABC unveiled its ABC Unified: Videobiquity Insights, a multiplatform audience analytics tool. The network touted the advantages of video on demand over other platforms while decrying its inability to monetize that audience. 

VOD use among MVPDs (multichannel video programming distributors) was up 14 percent last season, while streaming was up 25 percent.

Audiences that watch online or via VOD "actually watch more" of a program than those watching the same program on traditional, linear television, said Lisa Heimann, vp of research for ABC. Online viewers watch 44 percent more of an episode than linear viewers, and VOD viewers watch 49 percent more of a program. One reason for the disparity is that linear viewers can tune into a program that is already airing, while VOD and online viewers start from the beginning of shows. "When people make that active choice, they're heavily engaged," Heimann said.

As live viewing decreases—62 percent of viewing was done live last season, down from  81 percent in 2009-10—there is also "an increase delay" in time shifting, said Heimann. Fifty-five percent of VOD viewing now takes place outside the live-plus-three days window in which it can be monetized.

While "TV is still the only place that aggregates and coalesces large audiences around great storytelling … the reality is that measurement is a mess," said Adam Gerber, vp, sales development and marketing for ABC.

As third-party companies continue to work on comprehensive, multiplatform measurements—on Monday, Nielsen said its total audience measure is coming "by the end of the year"—"media companies like ABC are taking center stage and working on their own analytics," said Gerber. Added Heimann: "The future of TV has to be measured differently. It just isn't cutting it."

Many of ABC's most popular shows—including Scandal, Once Upon a Time and Fresh Off the Boat—doubled their live-plus-same-day audience in the 18-49 demographic last season once 35 days of multiplatform usage, including the VOD and online stats not measured by Nielsen, were factored in. Scandal's live-plus-same-day 2.89 rating among adults ages 18 to 49 increased 97 percent to a 5.70, while Once Upon a Time's 2.18 rating jumped 102 percent to a 4.41.

ABC's on-demand audiences are younger and more upscale than the network's linear viewers. The median age of ABC's on-demand viewers—including VOD, the Watch ABC app and ABC content on Hulu—is 37. The network's median age for linear viewing is 53.

ABC said its VOD viewers also are more likely to stick with new shows. Audiences that sampled pilots on VOD went on to watch 11 percent more episodes than live or DVR viewers, a further indication of how VOD viewers are more engaged.

While ABC's millennial audience (adults ages 18 to 34) was down 4 percent last season, per Nielsen's measurement, when multiplatform viewing was added in (including online and VOD past the third day), there was actually a 7 percent increase in the demo. In other words, said Heimann, millennials haven't abandoned TV—"the reality is, we just had to go find them on other platforms." 

Additional ABC insights can be found at

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.