Epix, ABC Family Launch on iOS; So What About Their Hulu, Netflix Deals?

Say this about TV Everywhere — it’s not making the complicated world of TV video streaming any easier to figure out. On Tuesday, cable networks Epix and ABC (NYSE: DIS) Family each announced iOS apps that let iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch users watch fresh episodes of their shows. For both networks, these offerings will compete directly with distribution agreements forged with subscription streaming services like Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) and Hulu.

Andrew Hunter, general manager of digital media for Epix, disagrees with the notion that the formal launch of the premium channel’s iOS app — it’s been in beta since October — is in direct competition with the distribution agreement Epix signed with Netflix last year.

Epix, a premium channel jointly launched in 2008 by Paramount (NYSE: VIA) Pictures, Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF) and MGM, is letting authenticated subscribers to both Epix and TV service providers including Charter (NSDQ: CHTR), Cox Communications, Dish Network (NSDQ: DISH), Mediacom, Suddenlink and Verizon FiOS watch its programming on a range of Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) mobile devices. Epix subscribers can also watch movies like Paramount’s Rango on Xbox Live, Roku and Android devices. It’s part of the cable industry’s broader “TV Everywhere” initiative, which seeks to keep cable’s traditional monetization structure intact as content migrates to a range of digital devices.

But Epix’s streaming service differs in a key way from the TV Everywhere authentication products launched by rivals like HBO, which has kept its programming largely confined to its own “Go” streaming service and thus is not competing with itself on other subscription platforms.

With Netflix’s distribution agreement with Starz officially ended, Epix is now one of its most important suppliers of big-studio movies. According to a 2010 GigaOM report, Netflix is paying Epix about $1 billion over five years to license its content. But in many cases, TV Everywhere users will have access to anticipated Epix movies before Netflix subscribers do.

“We’re happy to have our content on Netflix, and they’re a great partner, but we feel like we need to be in as many places as we can right now,” Hunter said.

ABC Family, meanwhile, said Tuesday that it’s giving Apple mobile device users — whether they have a cable subscription or not — the ability to watch free, ad-supported episodes from ABC Family millennial-targeted original series including Jane By Design, Make It or Break It, Switched at Birth and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. In most cases, these shows will be available for viewing on iOS the day after they originally air on linear television.

On Hulu — the streaming service partly owned by ABC Family’s parent company, Disney — shows like Jane By Design aren’t even available for viewing on mobile devices.

According to an ABC Family representative, free viewing of the basic cable network’s shows on iOS may not last long — the upcoming launch of authenticated viewing on Disney Channel very well might lead the march of other youth-targeted Disney cable properties like ABC Family into TV Everywhere lock step.

As for Hulu, there’s speculation that it too may soon begin signing deals related to TV Everywhere authentication. As for Hulu, the service already dipped its toes into the authentication waters with an agreement with Fox TV last year, and there’s speculation that it could be on the cusp of signing more such TV Everywhere-related deals. Last week, for example, the service joined a dispute which seeks to stop Dish Network from trademarking the term “TV Everywhere.”

Correction: The original version of this post failed to note an authentication deal that Hulu reached with Fox (NSDQ: NWS) TV last year.