The Disney-ABC Television Group announced Monday plans to offer free full-length episodes of its series Lost, Desperate Housewives, Alias and Commander In Chief, available in streaming format from its Web site the day after the shows are broadcast. The move may put ABC in the awkward position of competing with itself for online viewers, as three of those shows are already available through the iTunes Music Store. There are important differences in how the shows are offered in each format, however.
ABC called the effort part of “a two-month long experiment” to see how consumers react to the new offering. The company plans to offer current episodes of Lost, Desperate Housewives and Commander in Chief — three shows also available for purchase from the iTunes Music Store — as well as the entire current season of Alias. The shows will be available on the Web site in May and June.
Consumers will be able to watch the shows free of charge using a Mac or PC — they’re encoded in Flash 8 format, and will be posted in two different sizes — 500 x 282 pixels, streamed at 400 kilobits per second (Kbps) or 700 x 394 pixels, streamed at 700Kbps. Streaming means that the content won’t be available for download and viewing later, as the iTunes Music Store allows video buyers to do — there, the content can be viewed on a video-capable iPod.
Another important difference — unlike the content available for purchase on the iTunes Music Store, free streamed videos viewed on ABC’s Web site will have advertisements embedded within the shows. These ads will be interactive, according to ABC, and will “take many different forms.” ABC said it’s already signed up major advertisers for the effort including AT&T, Cingular and Ford.
Alex Wallau, ABC TV president, Operations and Administration, said that his company is exploring ways to work with local TV affiliates. Executives at network affiliates have voiced frustration with the move to put content for sale online, as it’s excluded them from any revenue stream.
“Our ultimate goal is to find an effective online model, one in which our affiliates can take part,” said Wallau in a statement.
Although consumers won’t be able to avoid the ads in each episode, ABC said that viewers will be able to pause and move back and forth between “chapters” in each episode. They’ll also be able to view the content in a 16 x 9 aspect ratio (widescreen format).