Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Or perhaps, broadcasters have decided to beat 'em at their own game. After fighting live streaming service Aereo and other similar hybrid TV services, which carry network programming, in court for over a year, ABC this week became the first broadcast network to stream its entire program lineup over the Internet to viewers in New York City and Philadelphia.
The ABC feed will be available on an app called “Watch ABC” at www.abc.com as well as on Apple’s iOS iPad and iPhone operating system and Amazon’s Kindle Fire. Others brands of tablets and phones will get support later this year.
At first glance, the move appears to be a response to Aereo, the company that is already selling network programming to New York City viewers with plans to expand to 22 other cities in the near future. The broadcasters consider Aereo illegal, but the courts have ruled in the company’s favor, and the company is ramping up service this week in Boston and Atlanta on June 24.
ABC’s business model is different from Aereo. After a six-week preview period (beginning May 14) that is open to anyone living in those two urban markets, ABC will then make the service available only to authenticated cable, satellite and telco TV subscribers. Users will have to enter a password for their pay TV service to access the stream.
The service began this week at WABC-TV in New York and WPVI-TV in Philadelphia. The network said it would expand its Internet feeds quickly to other cities where it owns television stations after it negotiates with each of its O&O stations.
The service is expected to launch before the fall television season begins at ABC-owned stations in Los Angeles (KABC-TV); Chicago (WLS-TV); San Francisco (KGO-TV); Houston (KTRK-TV); Raleigh-Durham, NC, (WTVD-TV); and Fresno, CA, (KFSN-TV). Hearst, a partner in the venture with ABC, will bring the service to 13 more markets, including Boston, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Milwaukee.
Aereo rents subscribers a small antenna that picks up all on-air local programming in a market and makes that programming available with DVR features for about $12 a month. Aereo does not pay broadcasters or the networks any fees. Broadcasters consider that illegal.
To keep its costs low, ABC is using cloud technology to deliver the live streams to viewers. Users say Aereo’s system is more expensive but far less restrictive.
The key difference is ABC is supporting the cable industry and not cord cutters, who refuse to pay for traditional cable television service. It’s a fundamental difference between the systems. ABC has agreements in place for authentication with Comcast, Cablevision, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Midcontinent Communications and AT&T U-verse.
From a technology perspective, he said, ABC’s live streaming is low cost. Affiliates who want to live stream their feed only need a simple $1,000 Linux box that taps into their live broadcast feed and uploads the programming to the cloud, where transcoding occurs in real time thanks to Amazon’s EC2.
Software on the upLynk device, GigaOM reported, connects with the broadcaster’s programming guide, and upLynk swaps out programming on the fly if the broadcaster doesn’t have the rights to air a certain show online. Also swapped out are commercials, with ABC replacing its generic TV advertising with targeted ads served to mobile computing devices.
According to media reports, ABC’s mobile live stream will include the same sorts of digital ads that are on ABC.com. This is in part because the Nielsen Company is not able to measure mobile viewing of live television yet, the Times said.
Because it is not paying the broadcasters, Aereo actually has more freedom to air shows that ABC can’t air. Local stations may not have the right to air certain syndicated shows online. When this happens, upLynk substitutes another program. Aereo airs it anyway, since it is carrying the broadcaster’s on-air feed.
“Watch ABC is a game-changing innovation for the broadcast television industry,” said Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group. “This announcement represents a defining moment in technology and distribution, as well as for our advertising and affiliate partners, as we ensure that our high-quality content is available to viewers on a variety of devices.”
The new IP servce might upset some local station owners since other mobile television efforts — including Mobile DTV — are just getting started. In some cases, these efforts require a miniature antenna, or a dongle that’s plugged into the phone or other protable device with an ATSC A/153-compliant Mobile DTV receiver.