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There's No Such Thing as a Free Livestream Lunch

By Norman Chan

ABC to begin livestreaming its broadcast television content to an app, but only for paying cable and satellite subscribers.

The New York Times is reporting that ABC will be the first of the major broadcast networks to put all of its programming online to be streamed live to an iPad app. ABC, which was one of the first networks to release an on-demand video app for tablets when the iPad was first released in 2010, will debut this streaming service for its New York and Philadelphia viewers. That means that every second of video that those users would otherwise watch on their local ABC television station will be accessible via ABC's new "Watch ABC" app.

But this is no cord-cutting measure.

Here are the caveats to this plan, which ABC executives say was already in development prior to the announcement of Aereo and the litigation that has followed. First, only cable and satellite service subscribers will be able to tap into the ABC livestream, and will have to sign in to authenticate their subscription in the app, much like HBO subscribers have to do with HBO Go. Second, ABC says that making this content available (both in livestream and on-demand formats) in an app means that it'll gradually withhold that content from free-to-view services like Hulu and even its own ABC.com site. This would be to sweeten the deal for cable and satellite providers who want to ensure that users keep paying for that subscriptions.

Also, the livestream will have advertisements, but it won't be the same ads that are piped to broadcast viewers--they'll be digital ads like you'd find on ABC.com. And finally, ABC will only be able to expand this service to other markets if it can work out deals with the owners of its 200 affiliate stations. In the case of the east coast, many of those affiliates are owned by Hearst, which ABC has a good relationship with. There are many stakeholders that need to be appeased in making this happen, and the consumer is rarely on the top of that list.