This undated publicity photo provided by PBS shows Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess, left, and Shirley MacLaine as Martha Levinson from the TV series, "Downton Abbey." Carnival Films and MASTERPIECE on PBS today announced that six new cast names are joining the series plus the return of Shirley MacLaine for next season's finale. The Hollywood star, who reprises her role as Martha Levinson, proved a huge hit with viewers last year. (AP Photo/PBS, Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE, Nick Briggs)
NEW YORK (AP) — The nation's largest cable company is planning a television "watchathon" for the last week of March, collaborating with several television networks to make entire series available for free on demand.
The Comcast Corp.'s plan encourages binge viewing, where people spend hours catching up on television series they may have missed the first time around and serves as a grand look into what may be the future of TV viewing.
Comcast has convinced more than 30 TV networks to make their programming available for the March 25-31 promotion. More than 3,500 television episodes will be offered, said Matt Strauss, senior vice president of digital and emerging platforms for Comcast.
"We're at an inflection point in how people watch television," he said.
Broadcast networks like ABC and CBS generally make only the four most recent episodes of a series available to on demand services. For the promotion, participating networks will make all of a season's episodes available for people to catch up on viewing.
Comcast customers will also have free access to premium networks like HBO and Showtime, which they would normally pay extra for, during the promotion. In many cases, entire histories of programs like "Game of Thrones," ''Homeland" and "Girls" will be available, along with some old series like "Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos."
The sheer size of Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, is what gives the experiment its resonance. Roughly 20 percent of the nation's television households are Comcast customers.
For the television networks, the experiment offers viewers a chance to catch up with or get acquainted with series they might not have followed. Lately, series like "The Walking Dead" are increasing in ratings in a way that indicates many people are watching past episodes during lulls in the series and getting hooked.
For the premium networks, the special week might also encourage more customers to pay for their service if they try, and like, some series that they might not have been exposed to, Strauss said.
All of the programs will be available to Comcast customers on mobile devices and tablets as well as television. The company is encouraging greater use of its application that allows viewing everywhere, a product that has started more slowly than people expected. Networks might also be encouraged to make more of their programming available on demand if the week is successful, he said.
Networks might have been concerned about losing some of its live audience to on-demand programming, but the week before Easter is generally slow with a lot of reruns being aired.
"We really see this as a collaboration where we are all partners," Strauss said.
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