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ABC to Offer Programs on AOL Video

The Disney-ABC TV group Thursday will begin offering


’s primetime programming to AOL Video. The move is a departure from the company’s long-held practice of distributing its content online strictly through its own broadband player and Apple's  iTunes, and it comes at a time when

NBC has been shaking up its own online distribution strategy.

ABC will offer the shows on AOL Video one day after they premiere on TV through an " on AOL" player, which will also display identification from the local ABC affiliate station. While AOL offers primetime programming from the other broadcast networks, this partnership is its first to stream ABC's shows and represents the first time that a network will co-brand its own online-video player with an online portal.

In announcing the partnership, Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television Group, characterized the move as an effort to extend the company’s online reach while maintaining a consistent video experience across sites.

"As we experiment with new ways to grow our digital business, we remain focused on finding smart, new methods to connect viewers to the content they want and brands they love on the platforms they choose," Sweeney said. "This deal not only provides additional viewing opportunities for our consumers, but also gives our affiliates and advertisers another way to reach our audience and associate with our powerful network brands."

Shows to be streamed on the new AOL portal include new series like Cavemenand Carpoolersand returning hits like Dancing with the Stars and Grey's Anatomy. Later this year, the network will also supply AOL with short clips for an embedded short-form player on the portal. The episodes will each include up to three ads -- at least one from a national sponsor and the others local. As is the structure with the broadband player on, the network will sell national ads and the affiliates will sell the local ads.

NBC announced Wednesday that it will begin offering primetime programs for free downloading. That bombshell came weeks after the network declined to renew its deal with iTunes. (Although Disney/ABC pioneered the distribution of TV programming on the pay-per-download service, NBC series like The Office were among the most popular.) NBC and News Corp. are also launching their broadband-video site, Hulu, later this year. Hulu will stream full-length episodes of NBC programming.

While NBC, CBS and Fox have tried to exploit digital distribution opportunities to promote their shows, experimenting with disseminating full-length episodes of their series through various online portals, ABC has until now been steadfast in distributing programs only on its own broadband player and iTunes, through which it was the first network to sell shows. Disney/ABC digital chief Albert Cheng has said that the restrictions were aimed at only disseminating ABC programming in online environments where it was clearly tied to ABC network branding.

Since launching its broadband player on in September 2006, the network reports logging more than 140 million online episode-starts of its primetime series. More than 80% of ABC affiliates have launched or plan to launch the broadband player on their Web sites.

"Based on the success ABC affiliates have had online in the past year since launching the broadband-video player on their own sites, we believe this initiative with AOL offers tremendous potential for increased exposure and promotional opportunities for local stations," said Ray Cole, chairman of the ABC Television Affiliates Association.