According to the New York Times, ABC plans to update its existing iOS App to support live stream TV. As we reported earlier this year, this plan has been in the works for some time, and is about to come to fruition.
Starting this Tuesday, according to Gigaom, ABC viewers in the NYC and Philadelphia metro areas will be able to access this new feature by way of a “live” button within their iOS app. ABC is the first network to bring this capability to the iPad.
Whether an iPad viewer can take advantage of this new service depends on two factors. First, the viewer has to live in a TV market owned by ABC. Viewers living in a TV market owned by an ABC affiliate will not have access to the live-stream feature until the network negotiates an individual contract with each affiliate, which will determine how advertising income is shared between the two groups. Secondly, the viewer has to subscribe to a paid cable service, even though ABC is a free broadcast network.
Despite these limitations, ABC is billing this initiative as a move intended to benefit consumers. The live-stream initiative was planned to begin in 2014, but ABC decided to speed up its release, in part because of consumer expectations. As Anne Sweeney, the president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, told the NYT, “We keep a very close eye on consumer demand. We watch how people are behaving with their devices, and we really felt that we needed to move faster.”
With this change ABC takes a stand against Aereo, a media start-up that aims to bring live TV to a variety of markets across the US. Gigaom reports that ABC will use cloud technology to live-stream its programming, which essentially broadcasts a personalized feed to each viewer.
The NYT reports that Ms. Sweeney believes that Aereo is illegal (the company is being sued by NY station owners for broadcasting their signals to consumers for free), but she claimed ABC’s plans for the app’s live-stream feature predated the service.
The idea of being able to watch live TV on an iPad as seamlessly as one does a set-top box is appealing; however, it still seems like the average viewer is a long way away from this convenience. It’s notable that ABC plans to restrict use of the live app to cable subscribers even though their signal is freely distributed over the air, which will satisfy its affiliates and the cable companies, but won’t necessarily win back cord-cutters or Zero TV households.