Digital Beats Out TV: NBC Airs Two Show Pilots Online Before They Hit Television

In an attempt to target the online video audience, NBC is offering the pilots of their two new series, the sitcom “The New Normal” and J.J. Abrams’ new offering, “Revolution,” through multiple online platforms like Hulu, iTunes and Amazon Video. They’re betting that releasing the pilots online will generate buzz before their television debut in a couple weeks.

Premiering a new show online before having it hit the airwaves is nothing new. Mashable reported that NBC premiered its musical series “Smash” online earlier this year before its scheduled television debut. It ended up garnering stellar ratings for its television premiere in February and was renewed for a second season.

The success of “Smash” gives three reasons why television studios are premiering their new series on the Web first:

Testing the Waters with Online Video

Networks invest millions of dollars on new series each year. If they don’t do well in the ratings, those new shows get cancelled, and networks have wasted their money on something that doesn’t work. By putting the pilot episodes online, they can gauge whether their investment is worthwhile. Networks can tell whether a show is doing well based on the unique visitors to the video and the activity that the comments page is attracting.

Understanding The YouTube Audience

Aside from the convenience factor and broadcasting across multiple platforms like Hulu and YouTube, putting pilot episodes online first invites viewer input before its television premiere. Users can praise or rant about that show on the comments page, and producers will know whether a show is fully promising or needs some adjustment.

A Sign of Things to Come

Just because people are flocking to online video doesn’t mean television networks can completely throw the towel in their battle against YouTube web series. Networks should adapt to changing conditions and could play with YouTube in their own arena by creating more of their own web series in addition to their usual television fare. As well, a new Nielsen ratings formula that includes online video and mobile viewership in the future would make it enticing for networks to put content online first before jettisoning it straight to television.

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