ABC To Pursue Ad-Supported, VOD Play

Following a test that began in Cox Communications' Orange County, Calif. cluster last fall, Disney-ABC Television Group said it is prepared to roll out an ad-supported offering of its series and sports fare to appear on other cable, satellite and telco distributor’s on-demand platforms.  

The on-demand offerings would afford the distributors’ one promo spot to tout their respective products and services, while the local affiliate would sell one 30-second commercial per half hour. The platform also bears the network and local affiliate imprimatur.

For its part, ABC, which has yet to determine the exact number of spots, will sell the remainder of the inventory, for a total between 2.5 to 5 minutes per hour, far less than the load on the small-screen. With the fast-forwarding function disabled, added value is brought to the advertisements.

Cox will roll out the on-demand application to other systems this year, while Disney’s affiliate sales team will reach out to distributors on behalf of the area stations to commence the launch elsewhere.

Accessible through the MyNetwork On Demand banner on Cox’s Free Zone platform in Orange County, the test offering enabled users to watch such top ABC series as Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty without being able to fast-forward through the commercials. ESPN and ABC Sports college football fare was also in the mix. KABC, ABC’s owned-and-operated station in Los Angeles, was identified during the on-demand sessions.

As the program moves forward, Disney ABC will proffer an expanded number of shows for on-demand repurposing, although that lineup has not been finalized, according to a company spokeswoman. It's also unclear if any sports programming will be available on-demand.

In addition to giving its subscribers extra viewing options, Cox benefited from a 15-second promo, touting its products and services, during the shows.

Cox spokesman David Grabert said the operator “felt the trial was a success, and we will work toward rolling it out to other markets throughout the year.”

Grabert declined to specify what system might be next or set a time frame for when the launches would occur. He did anticipate that most Cox systems would be engaged in Disney’s on-demand gambit.   

“This new agreement is a win-win for everyone, said Ben Pyne, president, global distribution, Disney Media Networks, in a statement. “Our broadcast affiliates gain incremental revenue and promotional opportunities; our cable, satellite and telco partners will now have the opportunity to grow their on-demand offerings; our advertisers have an additional platform to add to their mix; and most importantly, the desire of consumers to have additional access to our programming is fulfilled.”

Ray Cole, chairman, of the ABC Television Affiliates Association and president of Citadel Communications, which owns three stations linked to ABC, said the board has “endorsed this plan and recommends it to the affiliate membership.”

Studies conducted by Knowledge Networks/Statistical Research during the aforementioned trial period found that 93% of viewers were okay with ad-supported VOD fare, because they gained free access to top shows.

The availability of the shows on demand also cut into digital video recorder usage, as 20% indicated that they tuned to the My Primetime On Demand offering, rather than the recorded programming. The trial also apparently prompted incremental viewing: 27% of those surveyed said that they would not have watched the shows at all, sans their accessibility on the platform.

“Customer behavior and response to our follow-up survey questions indicated that they really liked having access to these popular shows via on demand, that they wanted more content and that they did not mind being exposed to advertising,” said Cox Communications president Pat Esser. “We are very pleased to be a part of this innovative approach to enhancing consumer value while protecting stakeholder interests in the ad-supported TV model; we look forward to expanding My Primetime with ABC and other broadcast networks.”