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Summary:

Modern Family producer Steve Levitan suggests ABC take episodes of his show offline to see how it would affect the show’s broadcast ratings. With 2 million viewers watching the show online, Levitan said it could be a Top 3 show if that viewing were counted.

modern family

Modern Family has been a hit on TV, but would it be an even bigger hit if you couldn’t watch it for free online?

Modern Family producer Steve Levitan now suggests that ABC take full episodes of his show offline to see what effect that might have on the show’s broadcast ratings, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Pointing out that more than 2 million viewers have watched his show online, Levitan said that Modern Family could be a Top 3 show if online and DVR viewing were added to its ratings.

As a result, Levitan says he’s lobbied to have Modern Family taken offline as a test to see how the broadcast would do without the online channel. The Hollywood Reporter quotes him as saying, “The idea isn’t to remove ways for viewers to find the show… but to see what [would happen to the ratings].”

But some within ABC might disagree with Levitan’s assessment of the effect online viewing might have on his show’s broadcast ratings. In a phone interview last week, Albert Cheng, executive vice president of Digital Media for the Disney-ABC TV Group, said that online video wasn’t competing with broadcast TV, but with other catch-up means of watching the same content, like DVR. “We window content differently, and we see the premier in the first window with live broadcast. But once you get [a show] a day late, who are we competing against? We’re competing against the DVR.”

Of course, the big problem is that the online channel isn’t as fully monetized as the broadcast channel, so Modern Family doesn’t make as much online or on the iPad as it does in its first showing. This is something that the broadcast networks are trying to remedy by increasing the ad load for online videos. ABC has been one of the more aggressive proponents of adding more ads to the content, doubling the ad load for videos that it shows on the iPad, with plans to grow the number of ads served across all digital platforms. From that standpoint, Cheng said that ABC was “feeling good” about how its online monetization stacked up against DVR content.

ABC is still treading carefully, for fear of mucking up the user experience. Full-length iPad videos now have two ads per break, with the typical half-hour comedy having three breaks and the typical hour-long drama having five commercial breaks. While it’s many more ads than most online viewers have become accustomed to, it’s still a long way from the number of ads typically shown during linear broadcast.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: How Online Video Is Shaping the Next Round of Retrans Fights (subscription required)

  1. Stephen - NYC Monday, August 2, 2010

    I think they are going in the wrong direction. They MUST REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF ADS shown during the broadcast so that people such as myself will attempt to watch them ‘live.’ I am not going to sit through 10 minutes of ads & promos for a 30-minute show nor 20 minutes of the same stuff for a 60-minute show. Sure, the VCR (yeah, I’m old-school) will help when there are times 2 shows compete against one another, but right now I NEVER watch any comedy or drama (forget the reality stuff) when it’s first shown. I record it then attempt to zip through the 4- & 5-minute breaks.
    Prior to 1978 shows had a limit on ads. According to the Columbia House MAS*H tapes I have, you got 24 or 25 minutes of actual show, plus credits plus ads in 30 minutes. If ABC does that I’ll watch just about any comedy or drama show they put on.

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  2. Stephen - NYC Monday, August 2, 2010

    I should add that I do enjoy MF. But I recorded them first then zipped through the breaks. I did watch a couple online as I had forgotten to set the vcr.
    And if they do only show it via broadcast, then I’ll be sure to fire up the VCR.
    And if any show ever becomes viewable only by paying for it a la carte, then I guess I won’t watch it. If I was (like I used to) paying directv for my channels why should I have to pay again? And if it is a la carte, then there better be no ads whatsoever and no snipes or crawls or pop-ups or screen logos anywhere. Showtime & Encore are despicable networks because they put their logos on the screen during the movies even though they are supposed to be premium channels and I am supposed to see the movies the way the director intended (and that means with nothing blocking the screen and the credits not squished at the end).
    Good luck to MF. I await their return this fall.

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  3. A day later is a different “window”? “We’re competing against the DVR”? What are these guys smokin’?

    Hello! You are competing for viewers attention, nothing else. If they watch your program, you win… If they don’t, you lose. Making business decisions based on windowing and other nonsense is just re-arranging deck chairs on the titanic. TV ratings need to reflect how normal people watch shows or the ratings are useless.

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  4. [...] a three-tiered model: free, subscription with ads, and ad-free subscription. Fearing online is symphoning ratings from on-air shows, Hulu partner NBC is warning consumers free TV online is not guaranteed, even [...]

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  5. I don’t think I would watch the show if I couldn’t do so online. I am usually very busy during the day and evening and finally settle in to watch a show on Hulu or the like around 11pm.
    Online viewing provides a different experience to the viewer; you can pause and rewind the show at will allowing you to see anything you may have missed. As for the ads, I don’t mind them so much, though I do prefer the ads which give you the option to watch a longer ad in the beginning of the show in order to watch the show commercial free or are interactive.

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  6. [...] for free at AllThingsD’s D8 conference. And earlier this month, he even suggested that ABC pull Modern Family from Hulu as a test case to see how it would affect the show’s broadcast [...]

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  7. Yeah, umm, DVR == VCR == no money, online viewing has ads and ‘should’ make you money. If you’re not charging hulu enough or putting enough ads in your own proprietary online viewer that should not be the viewers or fans ‘problem’.

    Now I enjoy Modern Family but I honestly have no idea when it airs, I just know that once/week I check and can watch it online. I’m not going to go out of my way to find out when it’s on if you stop providing it. To me online viewing should just be compared to a utility, whether viewers are watching with an antenna, through comcast, through TimeWarner or through online, it’s the SAME show and TimeWarner is not competing against DVR at least online from your own site you have full control of ads and revenue.

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