ABC's Live Streaming Aimed At Keeping Cable Cords Intact : All Tech Considered Starting Tuesday, ABC will let viewers in New York and Philadelphia watch their local stations over the Internet. But this is not a way to cut your cable bill. The new Watch ABC service will require a cable account to log in.

ABC's Live Streaming Aimed At Keeping Cable Cords Intact

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish, and it's time now for All Tech Considered.


CORNISH: It's another way television is moving online. Starting tomorrow, ABC will let viewers in New York and Philadelphia watch their local stations over the Internet. But this is not a way to cut your cable bill.

NPR's Dan Bobkoff is here to explain. So, Dan, what is new here?

DAN BOBKOFF, BYLINE: Well, if you have an iPad or an iPhone or a Kindle or a computer, starting tomorrow around this time, if you live in New York City or Philadelphia, you'll be able to fire up an app called Watch ABC and stream your local station as if you're watching it on TV. So this is different from the other online services they have. As of right now, you can actually watch prime time shows online after they air on TV.

But this is the first time a broadcast over-the-air local channel is going to let you watch their feed online for free. That's your local news, your daytime talk shows, prime time dramas, all that, all live. So this is just the beginning. Over the summer and into the fall, it will expand to cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. And eventually, ABC expects most of its affiliates will be on board.

CORNISH: So what's the point? Why are they doing this?

BOBKOFF: Well, as you know, many people are starting to wonder if cable is worth it and they're thinking of cutting the cord and going online-only since they can get content from Netflix and Amazon and other places. This is a way that the industry is trying to cement the system they've had in place for a long time, even as more people are watching TV and video online anyway. So they're going where the viewers are going, but they're scared that people are going to cancel their cable subscriptions.

So what they've done here is they force you to log into this app using your cable company's username and password, so they know you're a subscriber. Even if you're in the office or you're out of your home, they know who you are and that you pay for cable each month.

CORNISH: OK, so you have to have cable. I mean, even if you're watching online or you were trying to cut the cord, you have to have cable to use this.

BOBKOFF: Right. Now, you'd think that ABC is one of those few channels that you could set up an antenna and get for free over the air, which is true. But most Americans watch all the broadcast channels through cable. And cable has actually become a very important revenue stream for the local affiliates of ABC, CBS and NBC, which over the past few years have actually been demanding fees from the cable companies, per customer.

So when you pay your cable bill, you might actually be paying a dollar for ABC, a dollar for CBS. And for these local stations that have a big decline in advertising revenue, that's become a very important source of revenue. And by locking you into cable, they are trying to maintain that.

CORNISH: So what does this mean for tomorrow when the ABC app is going to be available to certain customers?

BOBKOFF: Right. So if you're in New York or Philadelphia, you'll be able to pull up this app on your phone or your tablet and you can hit the live button and see more or less what you see on your TV from your local affiliate. The biggest difference will be the ads. ABC says they've actually built in the ability to serve up targeted ads, so they know who you are, they know what you like and at least, theoretically, you could get different ads than your friends.

This is not going to be on day one, but they already have this technology in there, and you can bet it is coming down the line.

CORNISH: And ABC is the first broadcast channel to do this. And what about their competitors?

BOBKOFF: Right. The first over-the-air channel to do this. You can already watch a lot of cable channels this way: ESPN, CNN to name a few. But expect some of their broadcast competitors to follow suit. There's some speculation around CBS, which has already invested in an online streaming company that many say could help CBS launch something similar down the line.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Dan Bobkoff. Dan, thank you.

BOBKOFF: Thank you.

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