U.S. television networks ABC and NBC plan to make their programs more widely available on the Internet, accelerating a strategy to court viewers wherever they spend time.
Walt Disney Co's ABC TV Group, the first of the major networks to offer its top shows for free viewing on its own Web site last year, said on Thursday its shows will now also be available for the first time on a third-party Web property, Time Warner Inc's AOL.
The move comes on the heels of General Electric's NBC-TV network, which on Wednesday said it will make its top shows available for downloading to view for free.
Taken together, these moves, including NBC and News Corp's upcoming online video joint venture Hulu, appear to be an acknowledgment that consumers -- not networks -- now have more control over their programming schedules.
The big three U.S. TV networks, including CBS Corp, have been encouraged by early tests of making programs available to watch for free on their own Web sites.
These tests have helped boost viewership on traditional television rather than witnessing chunks of their audience being siphoned off, networks have said.
They're overwhelmed to find out people still want to watch their shows, Forrester analyst James McQuivey said of the TV networks. Now, they're crawling over each other to see where else they can put their shows where people spend time.
McQuivey said the bump up in traditional viewership from offering shows free on the Web shortly after the initial airing on TV, has been one of the first pieces of good news in the last decade as the major networks have watched viewership erode from a combination of forces -- cable TV, Internet and video games.
EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME
Networks have tweaked their strategies to address business issues these new technologies have created.
ABC's initial plans last year stoked concerns among its affiliate stations that the Internet would hurt ad sales at the stations.
Since then, special Web video software players for ABC's shows are now available on the television group's affiliate stations and ABC.com, which display local ads based on where the viewer logs in.
AOL will now carry a co-branded version of the same player, which will carry local advertising alongside national promotions.
Meanwhile, NBC, which said it did not plan to renew its contract to sell TV shows on Apple Inc's iTunes, now plans to make downloads of its shows available for free.
With the creation of this new service, we are acknowledging that now, more than ever, viewers want to be in control of how, when and where they consume their favorite entertainment, said Vivi Zigler, executive vice president of NBC Digital Entertainment.
The shows will be advertising supported and last for seven days. Options to purchase or rent programs and download them to portable devices may come next year.
By fall 2008, you'll see some very slick downloadable solutions from all the networks, McQuivey said.