For Netflix Users, “Catch-Up” TV Viewing Has a Catch

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Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images for Netflix

For the last two weeks, I’ve been what Netflix likes to describe as a binge viewer, watching two, sometimes three episodes a night of the acclaimed AMC adult drama Breaking Bad.

But now that I’m completely hooked, I’ve got a little consumer decision to make. I’m almost finished with season 3, and a fresh set of season 5 episodes is set to premiere on AMC July 15. But Netflix doesn’t yet have streaming rights to season 4 of the Sony Pictures Television-produced show.

So if I truly want to catch up on high school chemistry teacher Walter White’s evolution into a Southwestern drug kingpin before the new season starts, I’ll have to either buy the season 4 DVD or Blu-ray set, or make a transactional streaming or download purchase through Amazon Instant Video or Apple’s iTunes store. (Failing that, of course, the less ethically minded might consider torrenting.)

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According to a Netflix representative I spoke to Thursday, the service typically gets access to the most recent archival season of a show once the new season starts up on its respective broadcast or cable network.

That doesn’t help me if I want to be up to date with Breaking Bad come July 15.

So is this some brilliant strategy on the behalf of program suppliers? With Netflix executives saying that their streaming service is being increasingly used by new viewers of AMC’s serialized shows like Mad Men, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad to ramp up to the current season, why not steer some of that action to transactional VOD and disc purchasing?

Not only do the content licensees collect subscription VOD revenue from Netflix, they actually drive their transactional businesses.

According to Sanford Bernstein senior analyst Todd Juenger, however, that is only a secondary motivation for this release strategy.

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“I think the notion of compelling people to go buy the DVD sets, or digital copes of recents seasons, is secondary to protecting the first-run window on traditional TV,” Juenger wrote in an email to paidContent Thursday. “Content owners want to make the delay long enough such that people aren’t tempted to abandon watching on traditional TV and ‘just wait for it to come on Netflix.”

Meanwhile, a major studio home entertainment executive told us that since each show is negotiated for individually, “it’s hard to peg one methodology.”

Still, he added, “We do everything possible to ensure that we are having the best impact with the each of our properties in each of the windows. Putting a new show on streaming just doesn’t make business sense at this time.”