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Viewers who miss the beginning of The West Wing, ER or The Tonight Show will be able to use a new Time Warner Cable service, Start Over, to air the show from the beginning. All ads and programming following one of those shows will remain intact, so viewers in effect can choose when they want to start watching a night of prime time.
The only caveat is that viewers must tune in to at least the last minute of the show to watch it from the start; they will not be able to go back to a show that has already finished airing. A spokesman for Time Warner Cable said the service would begin in the next week or two on its South Carolina system and would then roll out to other cable systems.
The availability of broadcast network entertainment programming is viewed as critical in encouraging a wider variety of video-on-demand services being made available to consumers. NBC executives agreed to make the network's programming available for the first time on VOD because advertising would remain intact, and that Nielsen Media Research agreed to count Start Over viewers in its ratings.
The deal comes as other media companies are making programming available to time-shifting technologies. Earlier this month, Walt Disney Co. agreed provide a selection of its top shows on its ABC network for next-day download on Apple's video iPod.
Peter Stern, exec VP-product manager of Start Over at Time Warner, said: “This is a triple win for our customers, who have more flexibility and control over programming; for our advertisers because of the Start Over function [that retains the commercials]; and for programmers, as this gives viewers a reason to watch from the beginning and stay with the channel.”
Nielsen tracking data
In addition, Time Warner Cable will provide usage data to its clients. The data will include start-over plays, average viewing duration and unique users. Mr. Stern added that Nielsen Media Research had agreed to allow Nielsen households to add program entries into diaries for Columbia, S.C., to keep track of Start Over viewing. He said programmers would receive a full credit, even if they were watching within the broadcast stream.
According to a Time Warner Cable statement, the deal came about as part of negotiations with NBC Universal for a number of new carriage agreements for USA Network and Telemundo. Among them NBC Universal has agreed to provide a selection of its cable programming, including CNBC's Mad Money, on Time Warner Cable’s VOD platform.
The new deal also involves an agreement for the two parties to begin a new interactive channel that will poll consumers about the content they are viewing.
Other Start Over content
The Start Over service will also include original programming from up to 55 other channels, including eight Turner Broadcasting services, four Scripps channels, 12 Fox-branded services, as well as HBO, Cinemax and Showtime. The product requires a digital cable subscription. Consumers wil not need to buy a separate digital video recorder.