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ABC to Limit Online Access Starting Jan. 6

2 Jan, 2014 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Disney-owned ABC joins Fox in restricting next-day online access to network programming

ABC TV, beginning Jan. 6, will confine next-day online access to network programming to authenticated multichannel video program distributor (MVPD) subscribers and Hulu Plus.

Affected MVPDs included AT&T U-verse, Cablevision Optimum, Charter, Comcast Xfinity, Cox Communications, Google Fiber, Midcontinent, and Verizon FiOS.

Non-subscribers will have free online access only after eight days following initial broadcast.

Fox was the first to impose an eight-day embargo in 2011 on repurposed network programming accessed online. 

ABC TV, whose parent, The Walt Disney Co., co-owns Hulu with 21st Century Fox and Comcast, is mandating subscribers authenticate their membership with a user name and password at WatchABC.com or WatchABC app.

The rationale behind the move is the increasing impact Internet-based on-demand viewing is having on the traditional TV viewing ecosystem, as well as burgeoning subscription streaming.

By forcing online viewers to have a bundled pay TV subscription (or Hulu Plus SVOD), ABC is underscoring support for MVPDs, which pay networks hundreds of millions in retransmission fees, among other license costs. Allowing free next-day access to network programming was seen as undermining the existing distribution ecosystem at a time when the cable industry continues to shed video customers.

“Pay TV service providers are a key part of the television industry in delivering broadcast content through new technology platforms. Now, with the support of participating pay TV service providers, the ABC network is able to continue to bring live entertainment, news and sports programming on a national and local level as well as the latest on-demand episodes on new, emerging digital platforms at no additional cost to their subscribers,” ABC said in a statement on its FAQ page.

The move, which follows the October arrival of new CEO Mike Hopkins — a former executive with News Corp. (now 21st Century Fox) — also indicates that Fox’s desire for authentication is winning over Disney’s reported preference for ubiquitous ad-supported online access to programming.

That difference in vision is what prompted Disney and Fox to twice put Hulu up for sale — an issue that now appears to be resolved.

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