We live in an age when methods of both delivering and watching television that would have been unthinkable even five years ago are now routine, and where rules that defined the business model of television for decades are now changing every three days or so.
Case in point: NBC – tried-and-true, old-fashioned broadcast network NBC – will try a hybrid of the Netflix model and their own for its summer event series “Aquarius,” making all 13 episodes available online after the show's two-hour debut on traditional over-the-air television.
“Aquarius” – a period drama starring David Duchovny as an LA cop in 1967 investigating the activities of Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony) – will continue to air in linear fashion on NBC, every Thursday night at 9. But following that premiere on May 28, the whole season will be posted on NBC.com, to the NBC app, and to various On Demand services, so viewers who want to just watch the whole thing can.
“With ‘Aquarius” we have the opportunity to push some new boundaries to give our audience something no broadcast network has done before,” NBC entertainment boss Bob Greenblatt said in announcing the unorthodox arrangement. “We are fully aware how audiences want to consume multiple episodes of new television series faster and at their own discretion, and we”re excited to offer our viewers this same experience since all 13 episodes of this unique show have been produced and are ready to be seen.”
Netflix and Amazon have both built their streaming models around making entire seasons available at once, but they don't depend on advertising, relationships with local affiliate stations, and all the other factors that you would think would make a move like this unthinkable. Even pay cable channels like HBO and Starz have only experimented a little bit with this, occasionally putting multiple episodes of a new show On Demand in advance of the premiere, but even they haven't tried whole seasons. The press release suggests that the deal is made possible in part because they've reached deals with only a handful of advertisers to sponsor the whole season – which also means that the regular-scheduled episodes will have the same lighter commercial load as the On Demand versions – and with ITV involved as a producer, it may be that the economics of this show, as with its Thursday night partner “Hannibal,” are different enough that NBC can try this in a way it couldn't with a “Blacklist” or “Chicago Fire.”
Still, I'll be curious to see what the ratings for the premiere are like versus the following weeks. All new shows see some kind of drop-off after their premieres, but if the majority of the people who are excited about the show just binge the rest of it over that first weekend, will anyone be bothering to watch the traditional broadcasts? And will that ultimately matter to NBC?
NBC sent critics the whole first season, but I haven't had time to watch any of it yet. I'll be curious to see how this plays in terms of quality, and whether this plan succeeds or fails enough to inspire other broadcasters to try it.
What does everybody else think? Does knowing you can watch it all right away make you more likely to check out Duchovny's new haircut? Or were you looking forward to spending the summer with an “X-Files” reunion night, with Duchovny and “Aquarius” at 9 and Gillian Anderson and “Hannibal” at 10?