ABC Frees "Desperate," "Lost" Online
ABC might soon stand for the Anytime Broadcast Company.
Furthering its quest to turn prime time into anytime, ABC announced Monday that four series will be available for free online viewing starting in May. The trial run--the first time a major network has offered multiple shows online--will last for two months.
New episodes of Desperate Housewives, Lost, Commander in Chief and Alias will appear on ABC.com the day after they air. But while you can now watch Eva Longoria mow the lawn, Jennifer Garner change outfits and Geena Davis govern at any time of day or night free of charge, there's a rub.
Those tuning into ABC's Internet offerings have to sit through commercials that cannot be fast-forwarded through. Sponsors such as AT&T, Ford and Toyota have already signed up.
The Disney Channel will also get into the game, streaming full-length episodes of its more popular children's programming, such as That's So Raven, on its Website. (ABC is owned by Disney.)
The new venture comes at a time when networks are looking for different sources of ad revenue, now that at-home TV viewers are racing through commercials on their TiVos and more consumers are embracing mobile entertainment via cell phones, iPods and the Internet.
"It's a learning opportunity, about recognizing that none of us can live in a world with just one business model," said Anne Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC Television Group. "This is about the consumer, and how the consumers use all this new technology. It's consumer first, business model second."
ABC is no stranger to the portable entertainment pool, having been the first network to offer shows for downloading via Apple's iTunes Music Store. Episodes of all of the shows heading to the Internet, except for Alias, are already available for downloading and commercial-free viewing for $1.99 a pop. ABC will eventually make Alias's entire fifth season, which wraps up in May, accessible on the Web.
Lost has been ABC's most popular iTunes offering to date, and both the not so deserted island adventure and Desperate Housewives have seen their download numbers increase this year. Unlike the iTunes episodes, ABC.com's streamed shows cannot be ported to an iPod or downloaded to a file for later viewing on a laptop. (The shows will be available in Flash for PCs and Macs.)
Other networks, notably NBC, Showtime, Bravo, Comedy Central, Sci Fi and MTV, have since jumped on the iTunes bandwagon as part of a scattershot new media strategy and a legitimate rival to illegal downloads. Those nets and others, like the WB and E!, have streamed single episodes of shows on their own Websites. (E! Online is part of E! Networks.) CBS, which had a huge hit with its NCAA basketball simulcasts on CBS.com, also offers shows for sale on Google Video. Yahoo has teamed with networks to deliver shows online, while AOL recently launched in2TV, featuring classic TV shows for free--with ads.
ABC and Disney, meantime, also announced on Monday a soap opera channel for Verizon broadband subscribers called Soapnetic.
"Our ultimate goal is to find an effective online model," Alex Wallau, ABC's president of operations and administration said in a statement Monday that was careful not to alienate the network's traditional distribution stream. "One in which our affiliates can take part."
From: E! Online