It's become common practice in recent years for networks to make an episode or two available online to stream for free shortly before or after a series premiere in order to maximize audience sampling opportunities. But cable channel AMC really raised the stakes today by putting all 11 episodes that have aired so far of its latest original series "The Killing" on its website (as well as the VOD and online platforms of cable operators).
Can't say for sure whether a cable network has ever allowed this extensive a collection of episodes of a current series be freely available, but logic would dictate this is bad business for a channel: Why would a consumer buy the cow that is a basic-cable subscription when you can get the milk for free (although you do have to pay for a broadband connection).
On the other hand, AMC wants to drive as many viewers as possible to check out "Killing"; some ratings growth would help the network decide whether to order a second season. As a serialized procedural, "Killing" is not the kind of series a viewer can just check out midway through its run and understand the complexities of the criminal investigation that is its main storyline. Consequently, the only way to get new viewers in the door at this late stage is to allow them to start at the beginning.
But act fast if you want to get acquainted with "Killing"; the available episodes will all be removed by June 20, just in time for its 13th episode, the season finale. But AMC will also add its 12th episode next week after it airs on TV (where the network is also promoting this cache of catch-up episodes).
Don't expect AMC to do this with every series--companies like Netflix pay top dollar for series like "Mad Men" to allow for just this kind of binge-watching.