PHILADELPHIA -- The migration of popular network TV shows to the watch-it-anytime-you-want universe of video on demand moved to a new level yesterday, as CBS Corp. and Comcast Corp. announced they would drop a 99 cent fee for viewing such CBS fare as Survivor and CSI.
The change signals a greater acceptance of video-on-demand, or VOD, programs by network TV executives who were leery of the technology just a year ago, when they first allowed a few of their shows to appear for a fee.
Dropping the fee also reflects research by the two companies that reached the not-surprising conclusion that viewers watch significantly more VOD when they don't have to pay for it.
"Clearly at Comcast, we've always believed that free is the locomotive that drives the video-on-demand train," said Page Thompson, Comcast's general manager for video services.
He said the fee elimination symbolizes a huge change in the way networks view VOD. Network executives initially feared VOD would mean lost advertising revenue because people could fast-forward through commercials. Now the networks are embracing it more and more.
CBS spokesman Dana McClintock said that when the network offered on-demand repeats of college basketball games during the NCAA playoffs, on-demand viewings increased from about 25,000 with the 99 cent fee to "hundreds of thousands" when they were free. The larger audience allowed the network to earn about $4.5 million in extra advertising revenue, he said.
Included in the free VOD offerings will be CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, Survivor, NCIS, Numb3rs, Jericho and Big Brother.
The change also expands the free VOD to all CBS stations. Previously, only stations owned and operated by CBS had offered it.
Comcast also has an agreement to offer several NBC network shows, including The Office, for 99 cents each. That deal remains the same, though Thompson said Comcast hopes to add more free network content.
Episodes of the shows will be available for on-demand viewing starting on the day after they air on the network and will remain available for four weeks. Episodes of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation will be available on demand in high-definition beginning Sept. 22.