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How ABC plans to use live streaming and the cloud to challenge Aereo

This week, ABC (s DIS) is taking the fight against Aereo to the New York-based startup’s home turf: the network will start streaming its entire programming schedule in real-time to viewers in New York and Philadelphia. This marks the first time one of the major broadcasters has streamed a 24-hour live feed online.

However, there are a few key differences between ABC’s and Aereo’s approach: After a six-week introductory phase that will be open to anyone in the two markets, ABC’s streams will only be available to authenticated cable subscribers. And ABC is using cloud technology to deliver its live streams, making the endeavour a whole lot cheaper than Aereo’s.

ABC will start to stream its programming to iOS (s AAPL) devices in these two markets Tuesday, and intends to quickly expand the service to other markets where it owns local stations. Viewers served by ABC affiliates may get access to the live streams a bit later — ABC first has to negotiate revenue sharing for advertising served on the live streams and navigate the treacherous waters of content licensing.

But Ken Brueck, co-founder and CMO of upLynk, the company that powers the live streaming for ABC, thinks it’s only a matter of time before affiliates join the live stream. That’s because, from a technology perspective, ABC’s live streaming is incredibly cheap: Local affiliates who want to live stream their feed only need a simple $1,000 Linux box that taps into their live broadcast feed and uploads everything to the cloud, where transcoding happens in real time.

Specialized software on the upLynk device also taps into the broadcaster’s programming guide, and Uplynk swaps out programming on the fly if the broadcaster doesn’t have the rights to air a certain show online. Also swapped out are ads, with ABC replacing its generic TV advertising with targeted ads served to iOS devices.

The combination of that $1,000 box and upLynk’s cloud transcoding may seem like a minor technical detail, but it’s one of the main reasons broadcasters haven’t attempted to stream live programming online before. Previously, live streaming would have required them to deploy hardware encoders to each and every affiliate, something that Brueck estimates would have cost many millions of dollars. Now, the transcoding is done by Amazon’s EC2.

That’s an approach that Aereo can’t take advantage of, because it has to transcode a unique feed for each and every customer, which is why Aereo’s roll-out is much more expensive — and has been somewhat slow. The startup, which captures live programming from major broadcasters with tiny personal antennas and then streams it to subscribers, announced that it wants to be in 22 cities by the end of 2013. But so far, it’s only available in New York.

The flip side, however, is that Aereo can serve up shows that even ABC can’t. The broadcaster doesn’t have the rights to stream each and every show online, so upLynk’s cloud servers occasionally have to swap out programming on the fly. “Sometimes, your content is going to be different” that on live TV, admitted Brueck. He added that he hopes that ABC’s new live streaming app can help the entire industry to sort out these kinds of issues.

This story was updated at 10:15 pm to clarify details of upLynk’s deployment with local affiliates.

12 Responses to “How ABC plans to use live streaming and the cloud to challenge Aereo”

  1. Douglas Crawford

    These feeds are already free. Put an antenna on your roof – already allowed everywhere including rentals and it is free.. No one really cares about your own local television streamed …. People want local TV from other cities streamed live…. For sports and such…. And neither of these options are getting that done…. Our government should fix that…. Amazing how I can stream nearly any radio station and it seems to work just fine…. But television stations say it will not work …. How do they know it will not work it hasn’t been tried…. Only Major sports (subsidized monopolies & Direct TV’s NFL broadcast would be hurt by such a system)

  2. TV broadcasters seem to insist on repeating the same mistakes the music industry made for a decade before they FINALLY decided to give their consumers what we wanted via services like Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody, etc. ABC is playing games here and this won’t satisfy anyone. The main benefit from Aereo as far as I am concerned is its DVR functionality and its ability to stream to a TV via a Roku. In addition, the ability to receive broadcasts within the DMA which are nonetheless not receivable by an antenna is a big asset.

    I understand the broadcasters concerns, but as long as they refuse to give consumers what they really want, I have no sympathy. I’m certainly not going to subscribe to cable to get this service from ABC. I really think its time for a massive anti-trust suit based on illegal tying arrangements for actions such as this.

    • Hi Jeremy, I’m not sure where you’re getting your information, but both your math and CDN statements are incorrect.

      All of upLynk’s pricing *includes* CDN charges. With upLynk, customers pay for hours of content encoded, stored and streamed. Everything else, including adaptive, HD, multi-platform playback, encryption, content replacement, ad insertion, analytics, etc. are included with the pricing. When you factor in the total cost of ownership, even our public pricing is quite reasonable. Here’s a handly little diagram to better understand what upLynk does beyond simply transferring bytes over the internet:

      I’d be happy to answer further questions if you’re interested.

  3. flux8

    This is ridiculous that it’s so complicated for content providers to stream their TV shows over the Internet for free when they already do so over the air.

  4. AppleSauce007

    …and so begins a new phase of the iOS TV platform testing…
    Disney has always been amongst the first to test and adopt Apple technologies.
    Time will tell.

  5. how does this challenge Aereo, only people with cable are allowed access to ABC’s streaming service. Aereo offers this mostly to people who don’t have cable and can’t get a decent signal with an antenna

  6. Mitchell Gold

    So what your saying is that ABC is competing with Aereo by allowing “authenticated”cable customers to stream content over the Internet? Uh, anyone with a SlingBox can stream all their cable content (not just ABC). Barry Dilller must laughing really hard at your article and at ABC.

    Aereo is not trying to compete with Cable they’re trying to hasten the demise of an industry that forces customers to pay for content they don’t want or watch. Aereo is about forcing the business model to change. At best, ABC is throwing the cable companies a bone so they can keep collecting their retransmission fees for as long as possible.

    • @Michael, I would agree that this ABC move likely has little to do with providing a service that TV consumers need or want, and more about protecting the legacy business model (the retransmission fee windfall being a major component of that broadcaster cash cow).

      Also, the FCC apathy for meaningful oversight created the environment where the major networks have had no incentive to innovate. Aereo is unsettling that status-quo, for sure.

      Once streaming live TV becomes commonplace, then I’d expect the broadcast networks will attempt to brand their collective me-too offering (similar to the cable MSO’s “TV Everywhere” campaign).

    • Alfred Poor

      I agree; this hardly competes with Aereo. Where’s the DVR component?

      Isn’t this typical of a legacy institution? ABC is trying to replicate its linear real-time broadcast on the Internet, when what people want is time- and place-shifting for accessing the content they want. Aereo gets this. Apparently, ABC does not.

      I predict that this new ABC project will be a massive flop.

  7. HavaCuppaJoe

    If I were Aereo this wouldn’t concern me in the least. People with cable subscriptions aren’t Aereo’s target customers. They’re targeting cable-cutters that are sick of paying $100 a month.