Cox viewers will be able to watch episodes of ABC's hit series "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives," "Lost," and "Ugly Betty" free whenever they choose starting in the fall, The Journal said, adding that episodes will be available 12 hours after they premiere on ABC, and ESPN will chip in a package of college football games.
In an important component of the deal, the companies will also test technology that will place ads in shows based on ZIP Codes and geographic area, The Journal said. The test will start in Orange County, Calif., where Cox has about 250,000 subscribers, the Journal said.
Cox and Disney will also test a system to place fresh commercials in available episodes every few days so that ads don't grow stale, according to the report.
The agreement only applies to programs on Cox's video-on-demand menu, so it doesn't affect viewers using digital video recorders to fast forward through ads, The Journal said.
It's easy to see why the networks want to do this; it's hard to sell ads in on-demand programming, where every single viewer will be sitting with a remote in hand ready to bypass ads.
But I hardly think this solves the problem. If people aren't interested in your advertising, they will not watch it. You can succeed in irritating them by making them get up and use the bathroom and refill the snack bowl during the ads. But will you get their attention?
I actually think the ad-skipping works better; viewers see the ads in fast-forward and can stop and look at interesting ones (something I do regularly).
This kind of approach is, I think, a replacement for more creative thought about how to engage consumers in an environment where, increasingly, they are in charge - online, at the TV, everywhere. (And I predict you'll see it creep over into the DVR itself sooner or later.)
That's not an easy problem to solve... but if you don't even ask yourself how, failure is guaranteed. Meanwhile, somewhere out there, other marketers are asking the question, and when they come up with a good answer, the "you're going to watch whether you like it or not!" crowd will be left behind.