ABC Puts “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” Online

When I saw the headline “ABC to Offer Four Online Shows for Free,” I was not particularly impressed. After all, network television has been “free” since its inception.

ABC will offer four prime-time shows including “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” on its Web site for free for two months beginning in May as it continues to expand the ways consumers can watch TV online.

So what, right? Granted, there is a flexibility here that is nice–notebook computers are more portable than televisions. But there’s an itty bitty catch:

The shows will include advertising that cannot be skipped over during viewing. ABC, which is owned by The Walt Disney Co., already offers ad-free episodes for $1.99 each on Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes store.

Talk about back to the future. Those of us old enough to remember pre-VCR, let alone pre-TiVo, television would say there’s nothing new. Still, in the TiVo age, this seems downright Communist. But, hey, if someone wants to trade ten minutes of watching commercials (or, as in the old days, going to the kitchen or bathroom during the commercials) no big deal.

Why, though, is ABC willing to forgo its share of the iTunes loot on its most popular shows? Even I (or, more accurately, my wife) have paid to download episodes of “Lost” to watch on the airplane.

The experiment comes as networks try to reach viewers who watch less TV in prime-time and are embracing technology that lets them watch shows on computers and portable devices, such as an iPod. “It’s an opportunity for us to learn more about a different model,” Anne Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, said in a panel discussion Monday at the cable industry’s annual convention in Atlanta. “None of us can live in a world of just one business model. This is about the consumer, and how the consumers use all this new technology. It’s consumer first, business model second.”

ABC was the first network to sell TV episodes online. Since then others, including NBC, CBS and several cable networks, have offered shows on iTunes, their own Web sites and on Google Inc.’s new video store. Time Warner Inc.’s AOL recently launched in2TV, which streams episodes of classic TV shows with ads. ABC is working with advertisers to try new, interactive ads that will appear in the shows and will also offer sponsorships. Viewers will be able to pause the shows and skip to various “chapters,” but will not be able to fast forward through the ads.

So, basically, they’re trying to get a broader sample to experiment on. It makes perfect sense. As more of us what our television via recording devices that allow us to skip past commercials easily, the networks have to figure something out.

crosspost from Gone Hollywood

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    Why forego the iTunes loot? Because a cut of $1.99 an episode is nothing compared to the money they can charge an advertiser to reach the people who won’t pay. Of course, this whole thing about “technology that won’t let you skip commercials” is yet to be seen. I’m certain someone will come up with a patch to take care of that detail. Also, from what I understand, the free shows won’t be available for iPod.