This is very interesting. I'm surprised to see a network offer this because it represents a huge change to how they do business. I am not surprised that it's the BBC though. I would have been knocked off my chair if one of the Big 5 US networks did this.
I think we'll eventually get to this point with all of the programming, but the major networks won't go there willingly. They'll need to be dragged kicking and screaming all the way. Their ad rates are determined by ratings, specifically by the number of viewers during the two major and two minor "sweeps" periods. Offering on-demand television programming like this will completely change how they track viewers. In most cases, they'll drop. Last week, 22.5 million viewers watched Friends Thursday night, but part of that number is a result of the time slot. In that case, Friends went up against Survivor: All Stars and the rest of the shows on at that time. How will you measure a show's success when it's up against all other shows?
This is the networks' worst nightmare. They set their schedule very carefully to maximize the chances that they'll get that large spike in viewers (that's how you get the $$$ from advertisers). Offering all shows all the time will - I think - level off the numbers.
This would change how shows are produced. Right now a standard season is 22 episodes. That breaks down to an average of a show about every 2 1/2 weeks. If your production schedule is no longer constrained by a network release schedule, you may see some shows release two episodes per week. Would that mean a 44 episode season? Or a season that's over by December? Who knows...
Then there's the impact to actors' salaries (if the numbers do level off, salaries will drop), the changes for the advertisers, not to mention the poor folks at Nielsen's.
Is this the end of prime time? Tune in next week (or download it if you prefer...). 8)