ABC adding shows to broadband player

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After what it calls a successful test under its belt, ABC is poised to relaunch its streaming video service in the fall with a tweaked broadband player and more shows available online for a shorter period of time per episode.

The service will feature several more shows than the initial four, though ABC executives declined to discuss it until all the details were settled. Two of the shows in this year's test, Alias and Commander in Chief, have been canceled. Lost and Desperate Housewives could be joined by some of the network's new dramas and perhaps at least one half-hour comedy.

Viewers will see a broadband player created by the Disney Internet Group with a minor change here and there since the test in May and June. There will be slightly longer commercial inventory but Albert Cheng, executive vp digital media for Disney-ABC Television Group, said it wouldn't hamper the "great consumer experience" that the service was.

One change will be to the window timing, which in the test had been every episode available after it aired for the entire two months. Now each episode will be available the day after the original telecast for up to four weeks.

"Most people watch because they missed the episode, and that happens mostly within a discrete period of time," Cheng said Thursday. "Once you let it sit there, it doesn't get that much usage down the line." Most of the viewing was within the first 24 hours after the telecast.

The network released some statistics Thursday from its two-month test, in which more than 5.7 million requests for episodes were made and 16 million video streams were served. Each nearly hour-long episode contained four separate streams, which were kicked off by a brief ad.

Lost was the most popular of the four shows available online; Commander was the least popular. Cheng said most of the viewing was done because users hadn't seen the episode on TV.

ABC didn't release specific length of tune data, though it said a majority of the viewers had watched most of the episode. The ones that didn't stopped watching because they had already seen the episode or were interrupted, according to focus groups done by Frank N. Magid Associates.

Those results surprised some outsiders, who believed that the numbers of viewers were likely to be significantly less than those who accessed the streams. It's hard to gauge because data like this is almost always proprietary and held close to the vest by the networks or ad agencies that sponsor the trials. ABC would only say that, by comparison, there have been 6 million downloads from the Apple iTunes service that include not only ABC but other Disney units like ESPN and Disney Channel.

A separate source, NewsVine founder and former Walt Disney Internet Group manager Mike Davidson, said that some people tuning out was to be expected.

"It happens on TV, it's going to happen online," Davidson said. "Some of this test was people trying it out." But he also didn't think that any falloff was the most important part of Thursday's data.

"There are so many good things about this," Davidson said. "It's a good start....It's a huge, influential company taking the first steps."

He also pointed to some of the other data, including one that said 87 percent of the online viewers were able to recall the advertisers who sponsored the stream.

The average age of the video-streaming user was 29. Compare that with ABC's median age during the May sweep, which is traditionally in the mid-40s.

"We reached a really young audience, which was great," Cheng said.

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