The service -- which will also carry content from three of the company's cable channels, the Disney Channel, ABC Family and Soapnet -- will launch April 30 and is backed by a slew of blue-chip advertisers including Procter & Gamble Co., Ford Motor Co., Universal Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures. Other participants include AT&T, Cingular, Toyota and Unilever's Suave.
The advertisers surrounding online programming such as "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" won't necessarily be the same as those supporting the shows' run on the network. ABC.com will make shows available the day after they air and consumers will be able to pause and move backward and forward between portions of the show, but won't be able to fast-forward through ads.
"These two announcements represent the next steps in our comprehensive, digital media multiplatform business initiative," said Anne Sweeney, co-chair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney-ABC Television Group. "In the future, consumers will rely more and more on strong brands to help them navigate the digital world, and we have some of the strongest brands in entertainment. Our digital media efforts will help us strengthen our connection with our consumers. Stay tuned ... because this is just the beginning."
'Network of the future'
At an investor conference in March, Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger said the new Web site was part of its plan to create "the network of the future." Making the shows more widely available is expected to help rather than hinder viewership of the traditional broadcast, and for those advertisers involved in product placement deals with the shows, the Webcast will not only offer additional eyeballs but further "engagement." As a greater proportion of marketers' ad budgets are expected shift into digital media this upfront, ABC's move is a way of capturing more of those dollars and driving traffic to its other broadband video offerings, such as news programming.
Whether the move impacts Disney's deal with Apple remains to be seen. Customers of iTunes must pay $1.99 to watch shows on their computers or iPods, though ABC's Web site doesn't appear to make the shows available for portable devices. ABC and the other broadcast networks have been experimenting with different payment methods for their content to see what works. CBS, for example, offers "Survivor" online for 99 cents.
"Not everything has to be one business model. We want to find out what models work for what brands, what business models. We don't want to retrofit or shoehorn," Ms. Sweeney said.
No exclusivity for Apple
The broadcasters appear to be wary of letting Apple become the exclusive online vendor of their TV programming and have linked up with a variety of partners. CBS Corp.'s CBS and General Electric Co.'s NBC are working with Comcast to allow shows to run on the cable operators' video-on-demand service. CBS has also partnered with Yahoo to create a microsite for "60 Minutes" and Google Video for "CSI." NBC has indicated it is also considering using its own website to offer shows.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts this morning said he thought more models would only benefit other video on demand offerings. "If more consumers get used to using on demand, whether on a PC or TV, it's good for us.... The more video that streams in and out of homes the better ... Viewer controlled TV is a reality."