On Demand Summit: Comcast VOD 'Watchathon Week' to Return in 2014

McLean Suniewick Says MSO’s Cross-Platform Promo to Become an Annual Event
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New York – Xfinity Wathathon Week, Comcast’s cross-platform promotion that blew away video-on-demand (VOD) usage records in March, won’t be a one-and-done event.

“We’ll do Watchathon every year. It’s going to become an annual event,” Comcast vice president of video services Maggie McLean Suniewick said here Wednesday at the Multichannel News/Broadcasting & Cable On Demand Summit during a keynote interview with Multichannel News editor-in-chief Mark Robichaux. In addition to the annual Watchathon, Comcast is also working on other Watchathon-like promotions that will focus on specific themes and libraries, such as children’s programming, she said

Comcast has not announced when Wathathon Week will return in 2014, but its inaugural VOD binge-fest ran from March 25-31 and offered more than 3,500 episodes from 30 TV networks to Xfinity TV subscribers for no extra charge, including full seasons of current shows from premium channels HBO, Showtime and Starz. The aim was to attract more customers to Comcast’s set-top VOD and TV Everywhere services while giving them a chance to catch up on TV series in the hopes that viewers would tune into the linear channels and boost network viewership when new TV seasons got underway.

The promotion paved the way for Comcast to pummel its VOD usage records, as it saw double-digit increases in viewership. Usage for Comcast's set-top box VOD service, for example, jumped 25% from on a year-over-year basis, and beat its old viewership record set in 2011 by more than 15%.

Comcast promoted Watchathon Week across all its platforms, going as far as refreshing its VOD “barker” channel on a daily, rather than weekly, basis. “You couldn’t miss it,” McLean Suniewick said. “We brought people into the platform that didn’t even know about it.”

Although movies are still a key driver for VOD, TV shows usage is still on the rise, representing about  40% of views in any given month, she said, noting that 42 or 43 of the top 50 Nielsen-rated shows are now offered on VOD a day after they debut on the linear channels.

That, McLean Suniewick added, gives programmers a tool to further monetize their programming. By way of example, she said the CW network has seen a 15% spike in C3 VOD ratings.

And more opportunities to make money off those assets are already underway. Dynamic ad insertion (DAI) will enable programmers to freshen up the ads that go with VOD programs more than three days after they debut on the linear channel. McLean Suniewick said Comcast has about 60 networks certified to dynamically insert advertisements, and will have more on board by the end of the year. “This is our first real year with that,” she said of DAI.