Interview: ABC News’ Slavin: Paywall Strategy Coming Down By June

*ABC* News Digital execs are currently putting together a formal paywall strategy with expectations of having some concrete ideas for ways to charge consumers by the summer, said Paul Slavin, the unit’s SVP, in an interview with paidContent. This isn’t the first time *ABC* News has traveled the paid content route. Back in 2003, it created a premium program tied to the 2004 presidential election. Also at that time, ABCNews, along with CNN, put video behind a subscription wall, both as a standalone and as part of short-lived services RealNetworks (NSDQ: RNWK) SuperPass and Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Platinum. But a lack of traction among viewers forestalled those efforts and they were quickly abandoned. In the interim, rising online ad dollars in the second half of the decade made talk of paywalls and subscriptions at the network seem more academic than anything else.

But that changed with the collapse in online ad growth. CNN has had some initial success with its paid iPhone app, which costs $2 per download and also features ads. At the same time, ABC (NYSE: DIS) News is going through a massive reorg right now, with buyouts offered to all non-union employees not under personal services contracts. By various estimates, ABC needs between 300 and 400 employees to take buyouts in order to avoid layoffs. The cuts will accelerate the network’s emphasis on digital newsgathering.

Slavin offered general outlines of his team’s approach to paywalls and premium, but no specifics yet. An ABC staffer since graduating college in 1980, Slavin has headed ABC News Digital for nearly three years.

While he insisted that advertising revenues are getting stronger and have met the division’s expectations, the realities affecting all online media outlets are the same, he said. “Things are changing and we need to seriously think about alternatives to ad support,” Slavin said. “And that will involve creating some mix of free and paid content for our digital content.”

paidContent: What kind of debates have you been having about paywalls at ABC News?

Paul Slavin: We