Why CBS pulled The Mentalist from CBS.com

November 20, 2008

NOTE: This post is more than 4 years old but continues to get traffic, enjoy the read, though I shut down comments years ago because of spam, sorry. In the meantime, please check out my book, Digital Disruption, published Feb 2013 at forr.com/DDbook.

Original Post:

I’m catching up a bit here because I was traveling when this news item happened, but Download Movies 101 reported last week that CBS had mysteriously pulled full-length episodes of its surprise hit shows The Mentalist and Eleventh Hour from CBS.com, which of course means all of CBS’s syndication partners like AOL and Fancast are unable to show the episodes as well.

It’s especially confusing when it’s clear CBS is committed to full-length episode streaming. The site is full of hit shows like How I Met Your Mother which air full episodes online. Plus, CBS has recently extended certain full-length shows to YouTube.

It turns out that the fault does not fall to CBS, but to Warner Brothers Television. Not only is WBT behind the pull-down of The Mentalist and Eleventh Hour, but it’s also the source behind the removal of full episodes of Big Bang Theory, a hit comedy produced by, you guessed it, Warner Brothers Television.

Why does Warner Brothers Television hate us so much?

Maybe a better question is, why do they hate themselves so much? Remember, this is one of the entities that was behind the removal of Gossip Girl from the CW web site at the end of last season. Says one commenter on the Big Bang Theory fan forum:

If Warner Bros is really the culprit then CBS should renegotiate. This show barely made it a second season, and without people like me being able to catch up online, this show is toast. I really like the show but since I missed last episode, it kind of turns me off from watching any more of them since I missed out on what happened last episode. … It is nice that they have a recap and some clips, but not being able to see the actual show online when I miss an episode may make me turn it off for good. I did the same thing to The Office on NBC last year when they weren’t showing the episodes online. Now I don’t watch The Office at all.

Note how the good-until date is prominently displayed. Smart.

Click to see full version and note how the good-until date is prominently displayed. 

I want to riff on The Office for a moment because this is one show that does it right. Because there are no rules yet for how many episodes a network should put online or for how long they should remain online. The Office resolves this dilemma for viewers by showing you exactly which episodes are available, when they aired and for how long they will remain available. Brilliant. You give the audience the rules of engagement and they can’t complain when the shows disappear because you gave fair warning.

Fair warning, of course, is exactly what CBS (and Warner) did not give viewers of The Mentalist or Eleventh Hour. So what’s going on?

I’m convinced it’s renegotiation time. And that’s not just between CBS and Warner (who are parnters on so many things that it’s unlikely they are suffering a relationship breakdown). It’s also renegotiation season for producers and the actors. Remember the writers’ strike? One of the issues that strike focused on was what share of online streaming revenues should go to writers. At the time I briefly consulted an entertainment law firm that represents producers and actors who were wondering the same question. I have a hunch much of this is being done to push Warner and CBS to realize they would rather renegotiate quickly than let their popular shows languish.

I could be way off on this, I’m not a Burbank insider so I can’t say what’s going on, but I will say this. Future TV deals are going to come with online rights completely sewn up. There will not be room for mid-season shenanigans in the future.

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