ABC Floats TV Everywhere Plan To Affiliates
For the past two years, Disney has been rolling out its TV everywhere services that allow paying cable subscribers to watch ESPN and its other popular cable networks on their smartphones and tablets.
At no extra charge, subscribers merely have to download an app to their mobile device. Once authenticated, they can watch live linear streams or individual VOD programs. Subscribers may also watch online — on desktops and laptops — without the app.
Disney started with Watch ESPN in 2011 and added Watch DisneyChannel, Watch DisneyXD and Watch DisneyJunior last year. Comcast, Cox, Charter, Cablevision and AT&T are among those offering the service.
Now, in move that could take the long partnership between ABC and its affiliates deep into the digital age, the Disney/ABC Television Group wants to expand the Watch initiative to include the ABC affiliates.
During a closed-circuit webcast with affiliates from the set of Jimmy Kimmel Live! on Jan. 25, Disney/ABC President Anne Sweeney and other Disney executives invited affiliates to work out a deal within the next year or so, according to affiliates and their representatives.
As the executives explained, the affiliates would pay ABC for the rights to stream the ABC programming using the ABC video player, but they could recoup those fees and perhaps make a profit by charging cable operators that wanted to make the service available to their subscribers.
The rights negotiations would take place at the same time the affiliates negotiate with the network for renewal and reverse comp (programming fees) and with the cable operators for retransmission consent fees.
The affiliates would be restricted to their over-the-air markets by the ABC technology, but they would be able to put their own brand on their local services — say, Watch WTAE or Watch KMGH.
The ABC executives assured the affiliates that the network programming rights would include sports, including the NBA, NASCAR and NCAA football.
The ABC technology can track what each of the Watch viewers is watching, giving the networks and its affiliates the ability to sell the mobile and online audiences to advertisers.
"The affiliate partnership between local broadcasters and ABC has created powerful media brands in markets across the country," said Dave Boylan, GM of Post-Newsweek Stations' WPLG and chairman of the ABC affiliate board, in an email. He participated in the Jan. 25 webcast, questioning a group of executives that also included affiliate relations head John Rouse and digital guru Albert Cheng.
"While there is much for the affiliates and the network to discuss about the business model of Watch ABC, it is encouraging that the goal is for this affiliate partnership to continue on mobile screens."
Other affiliates had a positive reaction to the presentation. "We eagerly look forward to receiving a formal proposal from ABC on the best way to relay ABC programming over our platforms," said Jerry Fritz of Allbritton Communications.
ABC executives declined to discuss the Jan. 25 presentation, which covered other topics, or to answer questions about the Watch initiative.
To simulcast their entire program day, affiliates would still have to secure the streaming rights to whatever syndicated programming they carry. Some syndicators, notably Warner Bros., have shown a willingness to do that.
Affiliates already have the rights to local newscasts, although there may be elements within the newscasts, notably commercials and sports highlights, that also raise some rights and talent contract issues that affiliates will have to work through.
According to the affiliates, the ABC executives also indicated that they considered rights for mobile DTV — an alternative technology for reaching mobile devices — as separate. In other words, affiliates would have to pay an additional license fee for them.
One affiliate said the ABC executives made it clear that ABC itself had no interest in pursuing mobile DTV, citing the limits of the technology and the inability to easily measure the audience.
Fox and NBC have taken a leadership role in trying to bring mobile DTV to market, while ABC and CBS have sat on the sidelines.
The Watch initiative continues ABC's practice of working with affiliates that began several years ago when it first began offering episodes of primetime shows online — on ABC.com.
Participating affiliates have the ability to profit from the service. They can embed links to the ABC players on their websites and run some local ads where they can be seen by local viewers of programming.