With online content consumption skyrocketing, stacking rights have emerged as a leading issue in license fee deal negotiations between networks and studios they are not affiliated with. Now ABC and Warner Bros. TV have announced what the two companies call an “unprecedented stacking rights deal.”
The two-year pact will cover new WBTVG series launched during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 television broadcast seasons. Under the terms, ABC will be able to offer all in-season episodes — rather than the current practice of the “rolling five” most recent 5 in-season episodes — of any new Warner Bros. series launched in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons on a variety of video-on-demand platforms.
I hear that is limited to Disney/ABC-branded ad-based platforms only (no subscription-based services) and will require authentication. Warner Bros. will have end-of-season SVOD rights and early syndication rights as well as day-after EST and early DVD rights. Included in the deal are only upcoming WBTV series for ABC, not existing ones. I hear this may be the first of multiple stacking rights pacts WBTVG is eyeing with outside networks to give the major independent studio a leg up in selling shows.
Warner Bros. TV had traditionally been one of the most protective studios, not allowing its shows to be exposed early in their runs to not diminish their off-network syndication prospects. (That was an issue for the Person Of Interest producers who were vocal about the fact that viewers had no opportunity to get into the series to help expand its audience.)
But in a changing world where traditional off-network broadcast/cable syndication is being replaced by digital windows on streaming platforms, the old rules no longer apply. Especially as the networks favor more and more shows they own because they can control all digital rights, including stacking. The networks have long argued that new shows cannot grow in today’s competitive environment if viewers don’t have the opportunity to catch up with full access to all existing episodes.
“This is a real win for network television viewers,” said Jana Winograde, EVP, Business Operations, ABC Entertainment. “Giving our audience even more opportunities to catch up on their favorite shows in their entirety, on demand, only enhances their loyalty to and engagement with ABC and our series.”
WBTV has one returning ABC series, the recently renewed comedy The Middle. Last may, WBTV saw its ABC drama, Forever, become one of only two freshman bubble series (both not owned by ABC) canceled by the network. None of the three 2015 WBTV pilots at ABC were picked up to series. This pilot season, the studio has the new Kevin Williamson drama Time After Time and comedy Dream Team in contention. If any of them go to series, they will be covered under the stacking rights deal with ABC.
“Along with our partners at ABC, we’re pleased to offer viewers the convenience to discover and watch our shows on their own schedule and on the screen they choose,” said Craig Hunegs, president, Business and Strategy, Warner Bros. Television Group. “For our studio, the more people watch our shows, the more valuable they become for us over the long run.”
There is a downside — Netflix, the top streaming buyer of off-network content, for example, has been firm on exclusivity, only willing to shell out top dollar for shows that had not had online exposure beyond the standard “rolling five.” So giving a broadcast network full in-season rights to new shows could lower the shows’ financial prospects at a place like Netflix. But then, to have an established network show to sell to Netflix you have to get it on the air and keep it there, which a stacking rights deal like the one with ABC could help achieve.