It's a move that might make many think that "cutting the cord" is becoming more and more a viable option.  However, ABC's move to make live streaming broadcasts available on iOS, called "Watch ABC," is really just another example of television networks still gripping tightly to the paid TV subscription model by making it available only through TV Everywhere verification (much like HBO GO).  With ABC making their broadcasts available through their iOS app, others will likely follow, but it will almost always be accompanied by a verification system, even though ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox are historically free channels.

ABC Is Test-Marketing the App on May 14

The new ABC app will be available in New York and Philadelphia tomorrow and will be the first time a major network has made their broadcast available in real time.  Disney, the company that owns ABC, will be offering it over the summer to 6 other ABC stations they own and are going to try to get all the local affiliates involved at some point.  In turn, the immediate availability of recent shows on Hulu and will be more limited.

It is said that such an app is a direct answer to Aereo, the embattled subscription service available in various price ranges that plays all the networks' live broadcasts, has DVR capability, and has brought up questions of legality.  Aereo is not available everywhere either (only in New York now, and expanding to 22 additional cities later this year), but it's perceived as such a threat that now we're seeing a network actually make a move to counter it.  Still, Aereo's DVR option still separates it from this new app, and none of the other networks so far have followed ABC's lead, meaning Aereo will still be attractive for those who like watching CBS, NBC, et al.

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One thing though: while this is a "response to Aereo" I think many of the broadcasters finally understand that they need to bring TV to where the people are.  Even though DVR allows people to watch shows at any time, there are some people who want to see their shows right now, or are in a place where they need to kill some time, and are simply unable to do so wherever they are.  And without a DVR they won't be able to fast forward through the commercials, so there's a win for the networks (although the ads will be the same as what you see on and not what is seen during the broadcast).

It's a move we'll likely be seeing most networks and cable channels making: with a verification system you don't lose subscribers, you just make it so everyone can watch your shows almost anywhere, and that makes people happy.

  • Jack Taylor

    BBC and ITV have streamed live through their apps for a long time... (UK)

    • Chris Atkinson

      Thanks, Jack! We're often behind the times in the USA!

    • Kevin

      True, but isn't each household in the UK charged an annual licensing fee of about $200 (USD) just to watch broadcast TV? There's always a tradeoff.

      • Carla Marshall

        The BBC charge an annual licence fee (£145/$220) which covers access to all BBC radio and TV output per household. Not everyone pays of course (although they are chased until they do or prove they don't have a TV set in the house) but charging a fee means that the BBC remains commercial free. ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 rely heavily on commercial income and of course, cable & satellite channels all charge a fee, either a one off or a monthly subscription.

        It's a very interesting time with sites like offering free and unlimited UK online access to the 9 main BBC channels as well as their 59 radio stations, and of course iPlayer is available to anyone with internet access. The fact that a viewer *should* hold an up to date TV licence is, legally, a given as a prerequisite for watching these online channels but not having one isn't a barrier to entry. There's definite confusion about what's allowed and what isn't. Technically, watching live, or even some instances of catch up streaming of BBC content (via any device) without a licence is a criminal offence in the UK and if you are caught you will be prosecuted. However, in reality, it's difficult to police.

        How the BBC can continue to work within the licence fee structure in the face of such changes in viewer consumption is the main issue facing the organisation at the moment.