In an effort to drive awareness and audience reach, independently-owned The Documentary Channel is turning to the Web.
The 17 million-subscriber service, which offers short and long-form documentary movies, recently launched video channels on YouTube.com and Sling.com to offer full-length library content for free, according to channel CEO Jim Ackerman.
The network is offering some 15% of its library on the Web, although Ackerman says none of the movies and specials will debut in cyberspace before premiering on the channel.
But given the linear channel's limited digital distribution, the Web is a good option to reach viewers, particularly younger audiences.
“We think younger audiences are moving increasingly to the Internet and are using their computers to fill their programming desires,” he said. “As far as we're concerned, if people watch our channel through the linear channel via the cable operator, or watch our programming through the cable modem that is provided by the cable operator, we're happy — we just want to make sure we reach consumers where they are.”
The channel's Web play comes amidst a heated debate within the industry about the ramifications of offering free network content online. Most cable networks offer full-length episodes of their top shows on their respective Web sites in an effort to reach the increasing number of consumers who watch Internet video. But some network executives and several MSOs worry that such behavior will eventually lead to consumers “cord-cutting,” or dropping their cable service in favor of watching their favorite shows for free online.
Cable operators, seeing less value for linear network content, could begin paying less in affiliate fees, leading to a dismantling of the dual advertising/affiliate-fee revenue stream networks currently enjoy.
Over time, Ackerman admitted, offering content for free via the Web could have an adverse effect on network revenues. But programmers have to serve viewers wherever they are, he argued.
“Our main business is our channel, but its undeniable the industry is changing,” he said. “At the end of the day, you have broadband Internet access in the home and at offices that is enabling consumers to watch, in a very high-quality fashion, programming — whether it's clips, movies or television shows — on their computer screens.”
Ackerman said he's also concerned about MSO authentication proposals that would allow only cable subscribers to access long-form programming from cable networks.
“I don't know what that does for the consumer,” he said. “If we put up any barrier that frustrates the consumer, someone else will satisfy that need.
“If I pay my operator for broadband into the home, I want to make sure that what I choose to do through broadband I can do when I choose to do it.”