Broadcasters Step Up Their Streaming Abilities as Digital Competition Heats Up


If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Major US broadcasters are lining up their digital offerings for consumers, whether they like it or not.

“Television networks increasingly need to make content available to fans no matter where those fans are and what devices they are using,” said Greg Ireland, IDC research manager.

Disney-owned ABC is the first major broadcaster to live-stream programming to iPhones and iPads starting this summer for residents of New York City and Philadelphia via WATCH ABC, including local news, daytime talk shows and prime-time dramas. Plans include expansion to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago and eventually, buy-in from all ABC affiliates.

“Many people are starting to wonder if cable is worth keeping, and they’re thinking of cutting the cord and going online only since they can get content from Netflix, Amazon and other places,” notes NPR. “Live streaming is a way the broadcast industry is trying to cement the system they’ve had in place for a long time, even as more people are watching TV and video online. So, they’re going where the viewers are going, but they’re scared that people are going to cancel their cable subscriptions.”[more]

Broadcasters are reticent to disrupt the traditional revenue model of advertising and pay-TV fees, but ABC moved the launch of its live-streaming up from 2014 as consumers and the digital marketplace require quicker action. After all, streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu are quickly gaining ground in American households as consumers are dedicating more and more of their primetime-TV hours to digital video streams. Another streaming big-wig, Roku, claims that 25 percent of its customers use the device as their primary way of viewing television, which is bad news for broadcasters and cable networks. “The milestone is significant, since it indicates that there’s a very real and growing market out there for a device that essentially just acts as a service layer for bringing web-based content to televisions, independent of what TV manufacturers themselves are doing with their own built-in Smart TV services,” notes Tech Crunch. And if there wasn’t already enough competition, YouTube is ramping up its video offerings to create more original and subsciption-based content, proclaiming at its NewFront, “YouTube content is better than TV.”

NBCU’s USA Network, which has been the basic cable leader for seven years, is following suit by implementing a multi-device experience. “We are embracing this multiplatform world by marrying all of the screens for stronger two-way engagements with our compelling content,” said Alexandra Shapiro, EVP USA. “We have eliminated the walls between TVs and mobile devices to give brands a unified and fluid fan interaction,” USA partnered with technology brands Bunchball, Echo, Empathy Lab, RebelMouse and Watchwith on the unified platform.

TBS and TNT will also stream their programming live on their websites with new Watch TNT and Watch TBS apps. Live streaming will be available this summer to cable and satellite TV subscribers, and live streaming will include scripted and unscripted series, NBA coverage, Major League Baseball coverage and both networks’ coverage of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship. 

Meanwhile, controversial internet streaming startup Aereo continues to be a target of major network’s as it taunts broadcasters with its free streaming ability. The service has been challenged by Fox, ABC and NBCUniversal, and has gone as far to put a legal motion in effect to prevent future lawsuits from CBS and the like. But broadcasters are doing their best to catch up and take back control of their own game. Disney’s move could portend a trend of broadcast networks being broadly available, free for streaming. In April, CBS made an investment in tech company Syncbak that works with local TV stations to stream programming online.

Image courtesy The Verge.