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ABC Tries to Expand Affiliate Streaming Access with Clearinghouse Initiative

Ben Sherwood
Chelsea Lauren/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

ABC has launched a bid to expand the availability of its programming via authenticated streaming platforms by offering to establish such deals on behalf of its 200-plus affiliate stations around the country.

The initiative dubbed “Clearinghouse” is described as a “turnkey” solution for ABC’s affiliate stations. Disney/ABC Television Group chief Ben Sherwood unveiled the plan Monday in his keynote speech at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas.

The effort was born out of ABC’s frustration with the slow pace of affiliates’ move to offer live streaming and authenticated catch-up viewing options via MVPDs and OTT providers such as Sony’s fledgling PlayStation Vue.

Sherwood said that the 14 ABC affiliates in the Hearst TV station group have agreed to lead the pilot program for a technological and administrative template that ABC has hammered out with DirecTV for its Watch ABC app. ABC has also set a template agreement with PlayStation Vue.

The deal terms with DirecTV do not include the business or financial arrangements — those each affiliate group negotiates that on its own. The PlayStation Vue deal does include business terms. More template deals will be rolled out to affiliates in the coming months.

“At ABC, building on our leadership in the OTT and multi-platform we are pioneering creative three-way distribution arrangements among ABC, our affiliates and video providers,” Sherwood said.

“These efficient turnkey deals allow our affiliates to opt into partnerships that work for them, preserving the powerful local-national relationship while expediting the delivery of their signals into new consumer spaces viewers are demanding,” he said. “Let me be very clear: This is win-win. Consumers get the viewing choices they demand, and our affiliates get distribution opportunities that accelerate their involvement.”

Sherwood’s pitch for Clearinghouse came after he spoke of the vitality and importance of maintaining the local-national network affiliate business model. The construct of broadcast networks as the content-providing hubs for local affiliate station has inevitably been under pressure at a time of dramatic shifts in consumer viewing habits and distribution options across the MVPD and digital video landscape.

The goal with the Clearinghouse initiative is to keep local affiliate stations part of the mix rather than ABC moving to offer a straight national feed to via the Watch ABC app for authenticated viewing. If affiliate stations have more robust deals with MVPDs, ABC will benefit by generating higher reverse comp payments from affiliates down the road. Local stations, meanwhile, get expanded distribution of advertising for live feeds and more options for generating ad revenue from on-demand streaming of current series.

The demand for ABC to help facilitate authentication and streaming deals with traditional MVPDs and upstart OTT players underscore how complicated the new world of multi-platform distribution is for local broadcasters. John Rouse, ABC’s exec VP of affiliate relations, emphasized that affiliates have the choice of opting in to Clearinghouse arrangements; it’s by no means a mandatory process for affils.

“It’s a way to bring the local station into the mix,” Rouse told Variety. “We hope the whole (TV) environment will benefit from it by bringing more revenue into the ecosystem.”