The No. 1 cable company says that it has overcome the biggest obstacle: its inability to provide up-to-date commercials in older episodes of TV series. Since advertisers wouldn’t pay for viewers watching obsolete spots, the networks providing the shows couldn’t profit from VOD users who wanted to catch up with a series. But today Comcast says that it’s teaming with Nielsen to test a product for its Xfinity platform that it calls On Demand Commercial Ratings (ODCR). It enables Comcast to insert new ads into old shows, and for Nielsen to then count the people who view the spots in the three days after they first appear. (The jargon term for that is C3). “This could have pretty profound implications in the market,” says Comcast SVP Matt Strauss. “If it gets adopted it means the industry would move from selling an episode to selling a series. No matter whether you’re watching last night’s episode or your wife is watching one from a month ago — as long as you’re watching during the C3 window, you’re both going to see the exact same ads.”
VOD is a big deal for Comcast, he says, because it’s “a platform that’s unique to cable. Satellite doesn’t have on-demand.” (Actually DirecTV and Dish Network do, but customers also need an Internet connection to tell the company what they want to watch.) In addition, Comcast wants to short-circuit technologies such as Dish’s Hopper DVR that encourage viewers to avoid ads. Comcast disables the fast-forwarding in its VOD TV shows. Ad-avoidance is “disruptive to the ecosystem,” Strauss says. “We approach it differently. We look at it and say, ‘How can we create things that are win-win-win’” for consumers, programmers, and distributors? Comcast tested the ODCR technology over the summer in Philadelphia and Boston using shows from NBC — which it owns — and ABC. The challenge now is to see whether broadcasters can persuade advertisers to accept the VOD viewing data from Nielsen, and then pay. Comcast says that VOD is the equivalent of its most-watched network. Some 70% of Xfinity TV digital customers use VOD, and half of those who do use it to watch TV shows.