Fans of Modern Family, Scandal, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Revenge just got another item to add to their list of New Year’s resolutions: find their cable account credentials. Starting on January 6, ABC will require viewers to sign in with their cable account information if they want to watch new episodes of the network’s shows online the day after they air on TV.
The network explained the new requirements in an FAQ this way:
“Pay TV service providers are a key part of the television industry in delivering broadcast content through new technology platforms. Now, with the support of participating pay TV service providers, the ABC network is able to continue to bring live entertainment, news and sports programming on a national and local level as well as the latest on-demand episodes on new, emerging digital platforms at no additional cost to their subscribers.”
The requirement to sign in to watch also extends to Hulu.com, where ABC up until now made its shows available for free to everyone. Going forward, next-day access is restricted to either Hulu Plus subscribers or subscribers who authenticate through their cable provider. Both Hulu and ABC.com will continue to make episodes available to everyone, including people who don’t pay for cable, eight days after the initial air date.
ABC has teamed up with a number of TV providers, including Comcast, AT&T and even Google Fiber, to offer authentication, and Hulu offers authentication through AT&T, Cablevision and Verizon. However, no similar agreements are in place for DISH, DirecTV and Time Warner Cable, meaning that customers of these providers will have to wait a week for new ABC episodes as well.
Forcing TV viewers to sign in for next-day access isn’t an entirely new thing: News Corp.-owned Fox first instituted an eight-day delay for unauthenticated viewers in 2011, and has been forcing Hulu.com viewers to either sign in or pay up for Hulu Plus ever since. However, the fact that ABC now follows suit is an interesting sign of changes at the Disney-owned network that also indicates how the company is thinking about Hulu’s future.
Disney and News Corp., who co-own Hulu together with Comcast, long had different goals for the streaming service: News Corp. wanted to focus on authentication and paid Hulu Plus subscriptions, while Disney wanted to put a bigger emphasis on the free, ad-supported part of the business. Former News Corp. exec Mike Hopkins becoming Hulu’s CEO in October was a first sign that News Corp.’s point of view was prevailing. With ABC now putting up an authentication pay wall as well, it looks like Disney has come around and fully embraced paid and authenticated online video.