Disney stakes a claim for online TV gold

If online delivery of video – including streaming and downloadable TV content – is the current version of the great Internet gold rush, then Disney/ABC has just jumped into the lead by staking a major claim. The news about its free, ad-supported streaming TV show plans, which was broken by the Wall Street Journal on its website, is a substantial move forward from a major network – exploding the TV, Jeff Jarvis calls it – and has instantly become the standard by which all the other networks will be measured. As the story describes it:

“On April 30, ABC will unveil a revamped Web site that will include a “theater” where people with broadband connections can watch free episodes of “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost” and other hit shows… Episodes will be available the morning after they air and will be archived so people can eventually view a whole season. A Disney Channel version with five shows will start in June, and an ABC Family version is also planned. Disney’s Soapnet cable channel will start offering programs free on its Web site on April 17.”

Notice that it’s not downloadable episodes, but streaming content that you have to watch in the online “theatre” on Disney/ABC’s website (later in the article, someone from the network says that they are contemplating offering downloads at some point, for $1.99 without ads, or 99 cents with ads). Still, VC Fred “Microchunk your media” Wilson says it is “big, big, big.” It’s interesting to see, however, that Umair “Edge Strategies” Haque at Bubblegeneration disagrees, and thinks that Disney/ABC has done it exactly wrong.

The main reason ABC wants to keep you on the website is because the TV episodes have been specially formatted with three minute-long ads each, all from a single advertiser such as Ford or Proctor and Gamble. And while you can fast-forward the content, you can’t fast-forward through the ads. The story says:

“The ads won’t look like typical TV commercials. For starters, instead of five commercial breaks during an hourlong episode, there will be three breaks lasting a minimum of one minute each — all of them from the same advertiser…. viewers will have a choice of what type of ad to watch — for instance, a traditional video commercial or an interactive “game” commercial.”

That’s a smart move, and obviously crucial to the success of this effort – which at the moment is a two-month trial – with advertisers. But lots of questions remain, not the least of which is how many people will watch these streaming shows, as Jeff Pulver notes. And how will ABC’s local affiliates react? They make a lot of money by being the exclusive providers of those hit shows in their regional markets. The WSJ story also mentions that retailers such as Wal-Mart make a fair bit of coin selling DVD versions of those episodes – how are they going to react? Those with TiVos and PVRs will also likely be unimpressed, says Dwight Silverman.

Fun times in the TV business. And all part of the upheaval that we’re planning to take a look at as part of the “Future of broadcasting” stream in our mesh conference in Toronto May 15th and 16th – tell all your friends 🙂


Staci at PaidContent grabbed a few minutes to chat with Anne Sweeney of Disney/ABC about the deal.

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