When Sleepy Hollow went on a three-week hiatus due to MLB playoffs coverage, Fox promoted the show's video on-demand episodes instead. "Catch up from the beginning," promos suggested.
The networks' agreements with service providers typically allow for a "rolling five," which means the five most recent episodes are available via VOD. Coincidentally, five episodes of Sleepy Hollow had already run before the break, giving Fox one last chance to introduce viewers to the show's entire run (until the next batch of episodes began) via Fox.com, Hulu, Fox On Demand or its "Fox Now" app.
Fox chief operating officer Joe Earley says TV marketers are adjusting to viewers' changing habits, as audiences choose to stack shows and binge-watch them later. "Our experimentation this season has been about encouraging catch-up viewing," he says. Some VOD usage is now included in the Nielsen ratings, giving the networks more reason to tout those platforms.
Meanwhile, in order to capture fickle viewers, networks are also busy planting more promo messages inside programs. At CBS, the network has added clips featuring scenes from the next episode to the end of its comedies — a practice usually reserved for dramas and reality shows.
"The fans really want it," says CBS Marketing Group president George Schweitzer. "We have learned over the years that the coming attractions trailer is one of the most-watched things in the show. But we never had them in the comedies until this year. We asked every [show] to do them. We think it's important. It solidifies the relationship people have with shows."
NBC runs teasers touting shocking moments coming later in the episode of The Blacklist that's currently airing, another practice common to reality shows — and a ploy Schweitzer says makes sense. "Viewers are given too much technology to allow them to manage their viewing down to the second," he says. "We don't want them to disappear." For an hour-long show, that means giving the audience reason to stick around for the second half hour: "You certainly want to hold people through the bridge of 9:30 or 10:30," Schweitzer says.
Those added promo tricks aren't taking away from program time, he stresses: "It's all proportioned out. Promotion time, commercials, station breaks. Nothing has changed, just how we use the time."
Schweitzer is also taking a fresh approach with the return of Mike & Molly, calling the show "The New Mike & Molly" in all references. "New is a magic word in advertising whether it's ketchup, cars or comedies," he says "And it absolutely works. The show has been retooled, there's going to be a lot more with Melissa McCarthy in it, there's a lot more physical comedy. We want to gain attention."
Also, the lower third portion of the screen has become busier than ever. Text promoting the next show on the network (or touting a program airing later that week) often sits on screen for several minutes, and animated messages that interrupt the program being aired are common. "We call them speed bumps," Schweitzer says. "So you can slow down in fast forwarding a show, because people want to see the promotional material. They want to see the coming attraction."
But as ABC recently learned, those promos can surface at awkward moments. During the Oct. 6 airing of Once Upon a Time, a teaser for spinoff Once Upon a Time in Wonderland featuring an animated White Rabbit appeared to draw a rabbit hole around Snow White's privates. Or, as star Ginnifer Goodwin later called it in a tweet, a "crotchover."