By Jim Karpen updated on 05/17/2013
Historically, ABC has led the way in making its content available through on-demand streaming, via its website and mobile apps. However, until now, that content was delayed 12–24 hours after the original broadcast. That's about to change if you live in New York City or Philadelphia. According to The New York Times, ABC will release an update this week to ABC Player (free) that will include a "Live" button. Tap that button, and you'll be able to live-stream the programming from the local ABC affiliate stations in those two cities. However, as with other streaming apps such as HBO Go, you won't be able to live-stream the program unless you subscribe to cable or satellite TV and first log into your account. The feature, according to the Times, will be available in six additional cities this summer. And ABC is in talks with affiliates in 200 other cities to offer live streaming in those cities.
According to the Times, ABC will stream the local newscasts, syndicated talk shows such as Katie, and national series such as Grey’s Anatomy.
Why is this big news? First, ABC is the first to offer live streaming of network content, just as it was the first to make its primetime content freely available online seven years ago. But even more important in my mind, it's one more step toward the grail of not having to subscribe to a cable service. Many people simply don't want to pay $100/month for scores of channels they never watch. With the increased amount of streaming content available, it's less necessary to be a cable subscriber. In this case, one must still be a cable subscriber, but the inevitable next step is that one of the networks will finally make the bold move of letting people subscribe to its live content without having to be subscribed to a cable or satellite package.
A la carte TV is coming. Rather than pay for a package of channels, I want to be able to pay a nominal monthly fee, say $3 each, for just my favorite channels. They'd be present as apps on my iPad, and I'd watch them on my iPad or on my HDTV via my Apple TV set-top box. In fact, this is already how I watch TV, using apps such as Crackle, Movie Vault, TheCW, PBS, TED, Nightly News, and Smithsonian. All of that is free. But I'd like to broaden that with a few favorite paid channels.
The Times article says the new version of the app will be named Watch ABC, and will have the same live content as that broadcast over the air and via cable, but the ads will be different. That's because Nielsen doesn't have a way to measure the audience size of live streaming TV, according to the article, so the ads will be the same as those that you see when you stream video from ABC's website.
The Times says both CBS and Fox are also working on apps that may eventually offer live streaming.