Disney Bringing Ad-Supported ABC, ESPN Channels to YouTube

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Google’s YouTube and the Disney/ABC Television Group have announced a new agreement that will bring ESPN and ABC television programming to YouTube via special ad-supported channels. Although the agreement does not cover full-length programming, it will cover contents from popular ABC shows like Desperate Housewives,Lost, and Grey’s Anatomy, plus behind-the-scenes clips, interviews, and features. Financial terms of the agreement were not revealed, but—interestingly—Disney will have the option of selling its own advertising within the channels, rather than going through Google.

“This deal provides us with the opportunity to reach a broader online audience, to experiment with different monetization models, and to extend the reach of our advertisers within branded environments that they most desire,” said Disney Media Networks co-chair Anne Sweeney, in a statement. “We look forward to working together with YouTube to reach their vast community with our incredible portfolio of high-quality, short-form content to better serve consumers and advertisers.”

The channels will be available to U.S. viewers, and will feature in-video overlays as well as traditional display advertisement. Disney and ESPN will also be able to test pre-roll advertising on their short-form content, which marks a significant concession from YouTube: the video sharing site has resisted pre-roll advertising, saying it would annoy YouTube users and ultimately reduce the site’s popularity. Previews of upcoming ABC and ESPN programming are up now; the ABC offerings should go live in May, with ESPN content coming online in mid-April.

The deal adds to the amount of professional—and big studio—content that’s available on YouTube and potentially further legitimizes the video sharing services as a way for both studios and publishers to reach a wider online audience: YouTube also features content from the likes of CBS, Food Network, and Discover.

Industry reports have Disney also considering a move to get content into the Fox/NBC joint venture Hulu, although neither company has commented publicly on the status of any talks.

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