ABC Encouraged by Internet TV Trial

In the first month of ABC's trial offering free television shows on the Internet, more than 11 million viewers tuned in.
In the first month of ABC's trial offering free television shows on the Internet, more than 11 million viewers tuned in. (Abc.com)
By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

More than 11 million viewers watched free ABC television shows on their computers during May, the first half of the network's two-month experiment with streaming shows on the Internet.

The numbers, which come from ABC parent Walt Disney Co., have encouraged the network that viewers are willing to watch advertising online in exchange for free programming. The shows -- "Lost," "Desperate Housewives," "Commander in Chief" and "Alias" -- promise limited commercial interruptions, and those are restricted to one sponsor per show. Advertisers include AT&T Inc., Cingular Wireless LLC, Ford Motor Co. and Universal Pictures.

The trial has been successful enough that the network will bring back the service to coincide with the television season's start in September.

To put the online numbers in perspective, "Lost" received the highest television ratings of the four ABC shows offered on the Internet, averaging about 15 million viewers a week in the recently completed season.

ABC -- along with ESPN, which is also owned by Disney -- is trying a number of ways to reach viewers with its programming and, in turn, deliver audience to advertisers.

In October, Disney began selling commercial-free episodes of some of its shows (Disney, ABC and ESPN content) at Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes download store for $1.99 each. So far, iTunes has sold 6 million downloads of Disney content. About half of the downloads are episodes of "Lost," Disney Chief Financial Officer Thomas O. Staggs said recently.

Disney said the rate of purchased downloads stayed about the same in the first month of the two-month trial.

ABCNews.com averages 10 million unique monthly viewers, Disney said, and ABC News Now -- an Internet-based news and talk channel also accessible via cable and cellphones -- gets about 10 million plays a month.

Advertisers have complained to networks that they have been less able to deliver younger viewers, who are often spending more time online than watching television.


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