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ABC Ties Free Shows to Mandatory Ads

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ABC Ties Free Shows to Mandatory Ads

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ABC Ties Free Shows to Mandatory Ads

ABC Ties Free Shows to Mandatory Ads

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Disney-owned ABC TV says it will allow viewers to watch some of its most popular shows for free, via the Internet. But there's a catch: The commercials won't be skippable.


Here's some good news for the not-very-punctual couch potato in your life. DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, LOST and a few other ABC primetime hits will soon be available on demand and for free over the Internet.

There is, of course, a catch, as NPR's Laura Sydell explains.

LAURA SYDELL reporting:

If you missed the most recent episode of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and you don't want to buy it, you will soon be able to get a dose of your favorite TV show by visiting


While watching the episode, be prepared to give up a little time to Proctor and Gamble. Although the shows are free, ABC has made it impossible to skip the commercials.

(Soundbite of commercial)

Disney ABC Television Group is launching what they are calling a two-month experiment. During May and June, current episodes of LOST, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES AND COMMANDER IN CHIEF will be available for streaming the day after the broadcast, and the entire present season of ALIAS will be available, too.

Is this the end of TV as we know it? No, says Josh Bernoff, an analyst at Forrester Research, who follows the new media. In fact, he thinks this may help flailing networks.

Mr. JOSH BERNOFF (Forrester Research): Audiences for network television have been declining for years, and this is just a way for those programs to try and regain some of that audience that they've lost, but you can still bet that most of the viewing here will be taking place on the TV sets during the time period that the programs are broadcast.

SYDELL: In fact, Bernoff says there's evidence that the sale of commercial-free programs on iTunes has increased television viewership for those same programs at airtime. This new experiment is likely to please advertisers, as the number of households with digital video recorders, capable of skipping commercials, goes up, the ad industry has been planning to cut back its spending on television commercials.

Mr. BERNOFF: In a survey that we did recently of advertisers, we found that 60 percent of them were expecting to cut their investments in television advertising once digital video recorders got to 30 million households. In a world like that, it certainly makes sense for a network to try and find other sources of revenue, and getting people to watch TV on the internet is a good place to start.

SYDELL: The advertising on the web will be different from the television model. ABC says instead of five commercial breaks during an hour, there will be three lasting a total of a minute each, all with the same advertiser. So far, Ford, Proctor and Gamble, Universal Pictures and Unilever have signed up. The experiment isn't likely to please the network affiliates, who will perceive it as a way for viewers to bypass their stations, as Mike McGuire of Gartner Media Industries. McGuire says this to the affiliates. Get used to it.

Mr. MARK MCGUIRE (Gartner Media Industries): This is the wave of the future. You're going to have to find other ways and other means to stay relevant because the folks who are making the program, or the shows, rather, have to be experimenting with different forms of delivery.

SYDELL: ABC says it's trying to develop a model that would give the affiliates a portion of the online revenue. McGuire believes that other networks will soon follow ABC's lead and experiment with releasing their material for free with advertising online. He thinks the trend could spark more consumer interest in purchasing devices or adaptors that enables viewers to watch the streaming shows on a big screen. Viewers still have the option of buying these same shows commercial-free from the iTunes store. The free streaming shows aren't available for the iPod. It remains to be seen whether viewers will prefer to pay for the commercial-free version or put up with a few ads to get the programs for free.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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