ABC Putting Its Hit Shows Online for Free
The online access is part of a two-month trial set to begin in May. As a trade-off for being free, the online episodes will feature embedded ads that viewers will not be able to skip over.
TV networks are finding strong audiences in free online programming. In March, CBS provided live streams of March Madness NCAA college basketball games at no charge. CBS had 1.3 million registered users, as opposed to just 25,000 last year when it charged $19.95 for access. In a similar vein, AOL has begun offering free access to vintage TV series such as Maverick and Welcome Back Kotter.
If ABC's trial is a success, it could point the way for an entirely new business model for broadcasters, as well as new challenges. On the Internet, network programming will have to compete with smaller competitors who can likewise produce and distribute buzz-worthy online programming without the resources of the networks. And, without FCC oversight, such programming could be edgier and raunchier than anything the networks have experience in developing. One trick the networks might try is to offer special "uncensored" versions of its shows online, or expanded versions as the Internet will liberate show creators from the restrictions of timeslots.