ABC and the Future of Live Streaming Apps for Mobile TV

Most of the major networks have apps that let you watch programming on demand. These days it would be odd to find a major network like ABC, CBS or NBC that did not offer that option. But with so many disruptions pulling consumers away from live TV viewing, and the slow pace of the Dyle branding initiative to bring programming to a majority of portable devices, as well as the legal limbo of self starters like Aereo, networks are starting to think about what is next. And what is next for ABC could be the first live streaming app from a major network. 

It’s important to note that no other major network has gone this far. Cable channels such as HBO Go and subscriber services such as Amazon Instant Video, Netflix and Hulu Plus have provided a lot of programming, but have stayed away from live programming. Companies such as Time Warner Cable do offer mobile TV apps that do provide live streaming, but you must be a TW customer in order to take advance of it. In fact that is what ABC may require, that you are somehow already subscribed to ABC via cable television or satellite. 

This setup is in line with the TV-Everywhere initiative that many broadcasters are focused on, bringing their programming to wherever consumers are currently able to reach it. Disney is the parent company of ABC, and it has already developed apps for Apple and Android that deliver content from its brands, such as ESPN and the Disney Channel. But ABC bringing its standard programming, including letting people grab their tablet in the AM and watch "Good Morning America," is a bigger step. 

A lot of the conflict with this has to do with local advertising. Local ads are a lot of the life blood of network programming. If ABC were to develop a live streaming app of its straight network feed, locking out local involvement, they may have some angry affiliates on their hands. What ABC needs to figure out is how to involve local affiliates in the ABC app. While Dyle could do this very handily, and allow a local live stream of a network complete with local advertising, a national ABC-branded mobile TV channel app would be more of a struggle to localize. But this has not slowed ABC down, it is reportedly moving forward with the live app development while also trying to involve local television. One option could be local pre-rolls when you first boot up the app — you enter your zip code, and a local ad could be served. Another is banner ads around the app, this would most likely be the easiest way to achieve some local branding on a generic network feed. 

One side effect of this new focus could be on the related services such as Hulu. If ABC can develop a means and the software to develop its own live programming, as well as on-demand shows, would it still need to pump content through Hulu and Hulu Plus? Although Hulu carries a lot of different networks, make no mistake that an ABC app would be tightly focused around one network. Plus, an ABC app could be part of a ritual, such as watching "Good Morning America" or "The Nightly News." But are American’s ready to flip open their iPad and watch while they have their morning coffee? ABC is betting they will be. 

But all bets may be off if consumers don’t warm up to live TV. Signs of interest are sure to be there but yet to prove overwhelmingly so. The Dyle initiative is geared around branding mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, to convey that they can pick up live local stations over the air. Aereo is a service and device that picks up and delivers live local channels and gives people a choice different, and way cheaper, than cable or satellite. Neither is setting the world on fire. Plus, with dozens of major networks and channels, do consumers want a separate app or solution for each? Or would they prefer to graze live programming by flipping around, much like they do in their living room?

One thing is certain, the channel landscape is getting more crowded and becoming more diverse. Netflix is blossoming as a legitimate network while ABC is working overtime to bring programming to mobile people whose busy lives may be cutting the network out. Live streaming apps may not be the right choice, but in some ways it could be the only choice. The final option to keep the viewers engaged as they get more distracted by more channels, options, networks and devices. 

When television was developed, ABC rode the wave from the very beginnings, now it could be struggling to stay in the game in any way that it can.