Why CBS Changed Its Streaming Policy for Stephen King's 'Under the Dome'

For High-Profile Summer Miniseries, the Model Is Different

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When it comes to making current seasons of popular TV series available for the growing numbers of fans who want to stream video online, CBS has long resisted -- until its executives tried to figure out what to do with a new summer miniseries, "Under the Dome."

The book jacket for 'Under the Dome'
The book jacket for 'Under the Dome'

"Dome" may be one of the first CBS series to stream through a Netflix-like service -- in this case, Amazon Prime -- while its current season is still on the air. Amazon Prime subscribers will be able to stream the series four days after each episode is broadcast at no additional cost. Episodes of "Under the Dome" will also be available for purchase and download exclusively at Amazon Instant Video.

Backed by luminaries Steven King and Steven Spielberg, "Dome" is nothing to keep under wraps. The show tells the story of a small New England town suddenly cut off from the rest of civilization by an enormous transparent dome. CBS clearly believes in its potential, airing a promo for the coming series during its recent broadcast of the Super Bowl. The vignette asked viewers to check out a web site where they could enter their address to see their own home trapped under a mysterious bubble.

The new King-inspired drama marks a big bet on summer time TV, when broadcast networks typically cede their air to reality programming and lower-cost drama series such as CBS's "Flashpoint" or ABC's "Rookie Blue" but many cable outlets run some of their most popular stuff.

But the decision to allow streaming so soon makes some sense in the case of "Under the Dome." Broadcast networks usually depend on the ability to rerun and syndicate a program to derive a profit off of it. As a limited-run miniseries, however, "Under the Dome" is unlikely to be rebroadcast on CBS.

The miniseries, meanwhile, is likely to appeal to streaming video consumers, who have shown an appetite to "binge" on serialized stories that build from episode to episode. That's the behavior Netflix is trying to tap by releasing the entire season of its new original series "House of Cards" at once.

"With this innovative agreement, we're giving fans more options to watch and stay current with this serialized series," said Scott Koondel, chief corporate content and licensing officer of CBS's parent, CBS Corp., in a prepared statement. In doing so, he added, CBS would get the most viewers it could through TV viewing and DVR uses in the first three days of an original episode's release. Advertisers pay for ad views seen during that time, part of a measure known as "C3," but have successfully resisted network's suggestion that they pay for days beyond that.

The maneuvers suggest the marketplace for TV-network programming continues to evolve, especially when it comes to determining when and how to make content available. Differing circumstances for different programs mean that there may not be one set of set-in-stone rules to follow, even within a single company.

CBS has traditionally veered away from letting consumers see so-called "current-season episodes," out of concern, perhaps, that making such stuff available would lure potential audiences away from its own air. It has refrained from taking part in Hulu, the online-streaming service owned jointly by Fox, ABC parent Walt Disney and NBC parent NBC Unviersal, only allowing past seasons of CBS shows to run on the service.

But CBS has previously occasionally altered its ways to suit different circumstances, as it is doing again for "Under the Dome." In the case of the CW, the network owned jointly by CBS and Time Warner, the parent companies gave permission in 2011 for a five-year pact with Hulu that puts current-season episodes of the CW's shows on subscription-based Hulu Plus the day after broadcast, and the five most recent episodes of the program on free Hulu eight days after broadcast. Traditional ratings for the CW's series have typically been among the lowest on English-language broadcast TV.

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