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ABC to start streaming live programming to mobile devices this week


Covered by the New York Times yesterday, Walt Disney’s ABC will start testing a new mobile application called “Watch ABC” that allows premium TV subscribers to watch a live stream of the network’s content on devices like smartphones and tablets. Launching first in New York and Philadelphia on May 14, ABC management will continue to roll out access to the application in Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Fresno and Raleigh-Durham this summer. The network is also currently in negotiations to launch the application with affiliates around the nation. Hearst Television is the first major affiliate to sign a deal for streaming access and plans to launch in Boston and Pittsburgh in the near future.

WATCH_ABC_premium-tvRather than updating the existing ABC application for mobile devices, mobile users will download the Watch ABC app and authorize access with details about their current cable or satellite subscription package. At launch, access will be limited to iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad as well as Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet.

Further Android support will roll out later this summer with an app designed for Samsung Galaxy devices. Users will also be able to access the live stream on ABC.com using a desktop computer or laptop. As a promotional tool, ABC will also offer a free preview of the application to all New York and Philadelphia residents through June 2013. 

Rather than displaying identical advertisements, the Watch ABC application will insert advertisements specifically developed for Web and mobile users. When asked about the ad alterations, ABC vice president for digital media Albert Cheng said “What you see here is the same live programming, but what we are doing during the commercial break is actually inserting new ads into the stream.”

watch_abc_iphoneIt’s likely that these ads will be extremely similar, if not identical, to the advertisements that currently run on the ABC / NBC / FOX joint venture Hulu.com. This will allow ABC to accurately measure the effectiveness and performance of these ads since the Nielsen Company isn’t quite ready to monitor ad performance on the Web.  

It’s unclear if ABC plans to offer a premium subscription price to anyone that doesn’t currently subscribe to a premium TV service. However, it’s extremely likely that this platform is designed to combat Aereo; the service that streams high definition network content from antennas to subscribers over the Web. Obviously unhappy with another company making money on these feeds, it’s likely that more networks will follow ABC’s lead  in providing a platform to access live content over the Web and on mobile devices. 

While ABC is pushing aggressively to launch the Watch ABC app in all markets before the start of the Fall 2013 television season, the network will face a variety of hurdles with local affiliates. Affiliates will likely push for more local content included in the streaming feed in addition to advertisements that are relevant to the same local community. In addition, local stations broadcast syndicated programming, but likely don’t have the rights to display that content on the Web. Assuming it’s prohibited, the Web stream would likely have to default back to the national feed.