The ABC-TV network got a little extra PR push this week during the upfronts by an early test launch of its live streaming service called Watch ABC. The first reports of this last week suggested that we would see the project roll out during the fall TV season, with only an announcement at the upfronts. But apparently ABC already had the pieces in place.
This is the first time that a major broadcast network is streaming its full live schedule across screens. ABC Disney already has some experience on the cable side at ESPN and the Disney Channel, where similar apps preceded Watch ABC. But broadcast TV still carries that legacy of special weight and significance that makes this an important milestone.
I have already written about my own evolving TV habits under the TV Everywhere model. My ongoing experiences with the Dish Network are mixed at best. While I can indeed now access my entire TV grid from my iPad or iPhone at any time and place, the experience usually is good for only about 15 minutes before the connection becomes disrupted and requires resetting.
What is most interesting about the ABC project is the way that a network can leverage this alternative interactive screen in a lot of different ways. I happen to be in the Philadelphia TV market, which is one of the two initial test markets for the new Watch ABC app. By the way, as of today that is the new name of the ABC Player app that actually has been on the iPad since its launch several years ago. The rollout of the live stream is part of a substantial 3.0 upgrade of ABC's app.
If you are in the right market you can get the live stream simply by hitting the ABC Live button. This puts the live stream in the upper left corner. The show description and ABC logo is to the right. And occupying fully the bottom half of the screen is the ABC grid for my local station running through the evening. So in essence, ABC has the opportunity here to promote its full network slate and to try to keep me in the network fold in that way that the broadcast networks once enjoyed oh so many decades ago. It is a bit ironic that this next-generation TV Everywhere play actually has the effect of allowing a network to promote and merchandise itself in an almost antique fashion.
It is curious that ABC doesn’t make more of this. The grid that scrolls beneath the minimized live stream (which can be expand to full-screen view) has no interactivity or opportunities to give the viewer additional information. And you would think on a mobile app with the TV grid the broadcaster would take advantage of the embedded alerting system to remind viewers when programming was on. And while I am asking for more, it seems to me that the next step in a TV Everywhere app should be full DVR functionality. About 10 seconds after I was pleased to see the full stream live on my iPad, I was wondering if I could pause it. And maybe I’m just being greedy now, but it seems that these apps could take a page from some of the second-screen apps and let a user pause, back up, grab and share a clip or screenshot with a friend.
All of this underscores the fact that putting TV in a mobile or tablet app environment should mean more than TV Everywhere. In this case, it is TV on a particular platform with wonderful interactive and sharing possibilities. Being able to take the linear TV experience everywhere is pretty much the 1980s dream of the Sony Watchman. We are several decades beyond that now, however. And the simple stream should not satisfy us for very long.