Site mighty for Alphabet

ABC looks to streaming

Come fall, ABC wants its Web site to be a second home for its primetime programming.

Alphabet net officially announced Monday its plans to test online streaming of four shows on ABC.com starting April 30. Disney CEO Bob Iger unveiled the service over a month ago (Daily Variety, Feb. 28).

Initial service is just a two-month test, however, for what net hopes will be a bigger, permanent online offering starting with the upcoming fall season. By then, ABC hopes to offer more of its skeins for free, with interactive ads, starting the day after they air. Net hopes some of them will come from studios besides Disney-owned Touchstone.

“We’ll be looking at a lot of factors in this test — especially cost — but I think by the fall we can do much more,” said Albert Cheng, exec VP of digital media for the ABC-Disney Television Group. “And I’d like to think we can work with some of our other content partners to do that.”

Alphabet also plans to implement a broad array of community options in the fall that will let users watch shows together in an “online theater,” as well as do things like connect with fellow fans.

For now, however, ABC is launching a more limited offering. Net has signed up a number of advertisers, including Universal, Cingular and Ford, just to cover the streaming costs. It won’t be looking to make money from the service until fall.

That’s a temporary salve for affiliates, who are surely worried that viewers may be more likely to skip a show if they can watch it online the next day. If the network captures all the revenue from online ads, affiliates could take a hit on their bottom line.

Net says including affils will be a priority by fall, though it hasn’t worked out how that will happen.

“Our intent is to figure out how they can participate,” Cheng said. “There may be ways to help each other’s Web sites, or ad inventory models that can be shared.”

During the test, net will insert a single interactive ad during each commercial break.

First shows available during the test are all produced by Touchstone: “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Commander in Chief” and “Alias.” First three will offer new episodes starting the day after they air for the entire two months. Entire season of “Alias” episodes will be offered.

Test is being carefully designed to allow ABC to compare demand on its Web site with other offerings. Episodes of “Lost,” “Desperate,” and “Commander” go on net’s Web site the same day they are available for sale on iTunes. That lets Cheng and his team analyze whether ad-supported streaming impacts download sales.

“Alias,” however, is not on iTunes and will air its series finale in mid-May. That gives the net more flexibility to offer an entire season.

Alphabet will be analyzing a variety of data, including impact on iTunes, where Disney has sold more than 4 million episodes.

“We’ll be looking at usage behavior, how much revenue it brings in and how much it costs,” Cheng noted. “We’re committed to figuring out electronic behavior, though we’re still figuring out in what exact form.”

Mouse House also plans to start streaming shows on DisneyChannel.com soon.

No other net has offered episodes for free with ads on the Web before. NBC also sells skeins on iTunes, while CBS sells some shows through Google and “Survivor” on its own Web site.

But just as numerous nets followed ABC-Disney onto iTunes, others are likely to follow the Mouse’s new footsteps, especially if the Alphabet’s test proves a success.