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Bad news for cord cutters: ABC starts restricting access to full TV show episodes

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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, 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 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 (S CMCSK),  AT&T (S ATT) and even Google (S GOOG) Fiber, to offer authentication, and Hulu offers authentication through AT&T, Cablevision and Verizon. However, no similar agreements are in place for DISH (S DISH), DirecTV (S DTV) 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 (S NWS) Fox first instituted an eight-day delay for unauthenticated viewers in 2011, and has been forcing 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 (S DIS) 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.

111 Responses to “Bad news for cord cutters: ABC starts restricting access to full TV show episodes”

  1. Fred Barrett

    This is not a big deal. Next day or a week later, it is still new when you see it. OTA DVRs will shake that up soon. I rarely watch shows the night the are on. I watch when I get the time. Free viewing with commercial support is the better way due to better or broader reach. ABC should get it right.

  2. Although I do not have the details readily accessible, I did connect an electronic OTA antenna ($10) to one of my TVs to determine how many channels I would be able to watch without being connected to cable. The number of stations boggles the mind because there are programs at 2.1, 2.1, 5.1, 5.2, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4, 8.5, etc. Depending on where you live, there could be more.

    Before I was shut out of those channels, with my SONY HD tuner I was able to access the HDTV channels for the local major networks. Then Comcast encrypted them and required a DTA to watch the non-HD channels, and my big-screen smart TV is worthless unless I want to pay Comcast even more money to get HDTV. This is the main reason I will probably switch to OTA.

    As others have said we do NOT have to watch those programs on channels above the OTA channels.

    • With a coat hanger, I can pick up a dozen stations. With a Mohu Sky in the attic, I can pick up 38. According to published reports, ABC can be accessed by an antenna by more than 95% of the population. A new Channel Master DVR+ is a one-time cost of $250 plus the cost of whatever size hard drive/USB drive you want to add for storage. The vast majority of cord cutters can solve any issues this creates for the fraction of the cost of subscription TV.

  3. LMAO all you have to do is go ettv .com or bitsnoop and down load the torrent i have not watched cable in years and hulu stinks even if you pay you still get the adds talk about greed

  4. smokinmoose

    I live in the mountains where OTA is sketchy and there is no cable, so Directv (or Dish) is my only option. It is a point of contention for me that a lot of services that require some sort of subscription do not include Directv or Dish. I am not the only one to which cable is not available, and quite honestly I had Comcast in Illinois and it was horrible so even if it was available I wouldn’t want it. I don’t know about the other cable companies but I’ll guess their similar. Of course I’ll always keep Directv as it’s my only option to see the NFL team I am interested in, but that’s due to the NFL’s greed more than anything else.

  5. Cody barnes

    This will have absolutely zero impact on my life.

    I cancelled Direct TV in the Summer and now save $80 per month. I do miss CNBC, ESPN, and sometimes, Fox News

    Never even knew the shows in this article existed.

  6. Denise Roerick

    Wow, what marketing genius came up with this idea? Having to sign in AGAIN will just drive viewers away (it does not work). It smacks of big brother to many. Does ABC seriously think there are that many broadcast leaches out there? I will not miss ABC and I am guessing there ship will continue to sink. Netflix, HBO, DIrect TV, Amazon, Hulu wireless choices are making it to easy to look elsewhere. DUH you are trying to GET VIEWERS, right?. ABC will become like a post satellite radio, boring and ignored….

  7. The thing I realized a little while after cutting the cord about 2 years ago is I didn’t need TV as much as I thought. Waiting a week is nothing. After you wait the first week, you are back on a weekly schedule. I love the comments above about how misguided the networks are in thinking we need them. The freedom cord cutting has provided is great. ABC, I don’t need you.

  8. MedicalQuack

    I live in the Los Angeles ara and we have one more benefit here with using your FIOS or whatever service you have to log on and that is the ability to watch live ABC on the computer in HD..I think LA and NY are the pilot areas for this and again some of these efforts seem to figure in here too. I only have FIOS due to their recent price reductions as I need high speed internet and a land line so they tossed in FIOS basic TV for free, it’s all under $100 a month. I don’t do any HBO subscriptions either, but they gave me about 3 months free until the end of February…and I’ve watched a couple shows but I still can live without it and I don’t do any other subscriptions.

    Now FIOS also has me to where I can view all of this on my phone too, but fat chance for that in running up my data unless I’m at home and switch over the WiFi on the phone:)
    I have one TV connected and the rest are antennas in the house and I do have to say that ABC has the most trouble some signal of all, it’s just real touchy with placement.

  9. librarianlol

    sorry but they don’t work well in areas about 30 miles or more from a transmitting station. Perhaps a rural resident may receive 1 station, maybe 2 if they can place their antennae high on the roof or are in a higher altitude. You can check what kind of reception you will get at this FCC site: Put in your entire address. People in the same town can get a different number of stations depending on where they are in that zip code

  10. librarianlol

    When our legislators sold out the air waves to corporate interests, they forgot the many people who are far away from transmitting stations. It was supposedly done for better digital reception–not for many rural people. Maybe if they are lucky they can now get only 1 station by antennae. Many people can no longer afford cable. Those rural people had hope that they perhaps could get access to tv shows over the Internet. Now this. Bad idea ABC

  11. joseph weaver

    Think about it….this is the way TV was..we had to wait until next week to see the outcome, but to shut out the cable company and their crazy prices is music to my ear!

  12. ABC and any other network is only showing how pathetic they can get and how much they are hurting. On that note.. I’m proud to say I cut my cable today because of the rediculous prices for nothing but channels full of commercials!

  13. We USA citizens paid for the dams and power stations that generate the electricity to power tv, internet and all other electronic devices. We by law own the airwaves and pay for or finance all airwaves, and frequencies and we finance and pay for the colleges, sports stadiums, and other venues that host entertainment, sports, political events, public events etc.
    But for some unknown reason Congress,and State governments have sold off all our rights to cable, and network folk who no longer want to offer us free broadcast TV or events with out pay.
    There is no reason what so ever why I should not be able to see my College Teams play in State, or Why I should not be able to get free Broadcast TV with out paying first or having to wait for eons to see segments. UP with CABLE CUTTERS, (that is the proper term.
    Or let us cease giving these folks loans, tax set asides, special treatment in law and in the public sector. GIVE US LIBERTY. GIVE US BROADCAST FAIRNESS AS GUARANTEED IN THE BROADCAST LAW.

  14. Well that won’t bother me at all….. I don’t watch any of that mindless garbage they crank out or all those ads. I’ll watch Netflix any day over ABC.

    I think the big 3 will go the way of the dinosaurs

  15. Why is this BAD news ?

    Get OTA antenna, get Simple.TV and a box like Roku or WDTV
    Subscribe to Hulu Plus

    You still end up paying significantly less than Dish or Cable.

    To me people who just use Internet for their news and TV content are going to loose.

  16. John Connors

    These networks and websites are going to alienate a lot of people with this practice. The goal is to get more people to watch not less. You make access to much of a hassle, people will look elsewhere for their entertain. Where there is a hole to fill, I see opportunity.

    • You got that right. TNT started this foolishness a few years and they only had two shows that I watched which was Ray Romano’s show Men Of a Certain Age and Southland. Loved the shows but sure wasn’t willing to have another bill so I just totally gave them up. It’ll be the same thing with Shark Tank and Scandal. But usually even when something is more for the consumer you can still see where it’s advantages for the company because they get more dollars from it. I just can’t see people who don’t already have cable like me getting it just to watch free tv. So in my opinion they’ll lose viewers. They’ll certainly loose my viewership and I thought the goal was to get more viewers not less. Just doesn’t make sense.

  17. I caution you to enjoy OTA broadcasting while it lasts because the FCC and their counterparts around the world will soon repurpose the frequencies used for television.

    I caution you to understand the frequency “repurposing” of which you speak. The frequencies being repurposed are old analog ones that no one uses any more since most of the population has moved on to HDTV. Unencrypted OTA broadcasts still continue, but on on new channels using digital technology.

    • You are ill informed. The spectrum auction is for ATSC channels and low power stations that are in band. This means HDTV stations are affected. The end result is that the channel reallocation and reassignments will affect an estimated 30 percent of broadcast stations. The spectrum that is returned will be sold off for broadband service.

      • KP near Boston

        Please excuse my total lack of technical knowledge, but I read a couple of years ago that the government will be cutting back on all bandwidth for television broadcasting because other services want more space and will pay for it. The huge proliferation of apps was specifically mentioned.

  18. Bregalad Fangorn

    Being from the great white north where one of the largest cities has only 3 OTA channels, I’m curious how much content “most Americans” really have access to.

    I caution you to enjoy OTA broadcasting while it lasts because the FCC and their counterparts around the world will soon repurpose the frequencies used for television. The big media companies too are eager to move customers to new technology that lets them shut down transmitters, collect personal data and serve more lucrative targeted ads.

    • Already being done…these cable companies are in bed with all the networks, and to get the basic cable is similar to getting nothing, because all the big networks are on the upper echelon ,hence you have to pay more, and yes, you also have to pay for the internet, when it’s all over at the end of the month, here in the philly area it’s over 200 dollars, disgusting to know this because I usually only watch the history channel or the military channel.

  19. Pond lady

    I really resent their belief that if we don’t pay through the nose for cable we’re second class citizens or something. I pay for the most basic of cable, the economy package, and even though the cable networks like USA and TNT say the shows will be unlocked for all after a short time period, they never are. I figure they didn’t want me to watch the Closer or White Collar anyway so I’ll watch Netflix or Amazon or something else. The thinking of limiting access to shows really just limits their audience. The only reason I pay for the economy package is that I can’t get my local ABC channel via interior antenna and I prefer their news/weather and GMA in the morning. I’ll just wait to watch ABC shows, unless I lose interest and watch CSI NY reruns or something instead…….

  20. I’ll watch free over the air, watch a week later or simply choose different shows. What I won’t do is reconnect the cord. Guess what ABC. You need us viewers more than we need your entertainment.

    • I totally agree. There are were three tv’s in my home and cable wasn’t on any of them when my personal tv broke earlier this year. I didn’t bother buying another one because I work at night anyway and don’t watch much tv since I sleep from early afternoon into the evening. The few shows I continue to watch were through the channels,, I was fine without cable and I’ll continue to be fine without The only shows I ever watched on abc was Shark Tank and Scandal so I’ll watch a week after they air or not at all. But I don’t see myself getting another bill for cable to watch these shows and give people who are already millionaires or billionaires more of my little pay check.

  21. VicTor Marino

    Idiots, just like the music industry. What I can’t get for free on line, I’ll download as a torrent with no commercials. Why am I a second class citizen just because I live out of reach of a local affiliate’s signal? Why should I be forced to pay a cable company to get what most Americans get for free OTA?

      • What makes you think we owe the entertainment industry anything? We don’t. Advertising pays for most of the bills so you would think they would want more people to watch.

      • jdrch, no one is talking about the entertainment industry owing anyone anything… it’s just a reality that we can all get a full HD version of their shows on the same broadcast day via the torrent. To somehow moralize this is just wrong. The fact remains is that torrents are a reality that cannot be ignored and if the traditional media companies do not provide the content in an easily accessible manner the consumer will use other, less profitable means to acquire their content. The music industry ignored this reality and suffered mightily for it.

        • Shoplifting is a reality too, but does that mean retailers should not charge anything in order to “provide their content in an easily accessible manner”? Advertising comprises about half the revenues for a typical media company, with the other half coming from subscription fees (including retrans fees for broadcast channels). There has to be a viable economic model to pay for the production of content, and for better or worse, that includes both advertising and subscription revenues.

          • The sooner the media business abandons the idea that a) this is a moral issue and b) that it is the consumer’s responsibility to play by their rules the sooner the industry will be able to find a viable solution to monetize their content. It’s this kind of thinking that prevented the music industry from developing a sustainable business model for digital and why it a company in Cupertino came in to suck away a great portion of their profits for the first decade of online music. Your analogy reveals why the industry is paralyzed in its ability to evolve on accordance with the market realities. Like it or not the torrent world is there and until the industry figures out a delivery method that is equally effective them people will continue to download (without any moral hesitation I should add since most people feel it just isn’t their problem to solve the industry’s incompetence).

      • Chung Ya Dang

        Actually, jdrch…

        The airwaves are public domain and only *licensed* to broadcasters for use.

        Therefore, broadcasters actually do owe us- the American public- for use of our airwaves.

        Research the history of American broadcasting. Our culture hasn’t always been as selfish as we are today.

        • I was going to mention the same thing. A license to broadcast means that the stations (non-cable) are supposed to be providing a public service. When it all went to digital, many of us suffered because we could not get the free signal we were supposed to have.

      • Yeah, sure they don’t. We are JUST their loyal viewers who give them ratings, keep their shows off the chopping block, keeping them employed.

  22. Ashinka Arts

    Why is this bad news for Cord Cutters? Watch it free on the day of the show over the air. Else record it on your OTA dvr. Or if you don’t find time there you go. Watch it a week later. Heh

      • Then they’re missing out through ignorance. OTA antennas will give you free high definition broadcasts of better quality than small dish Ka band offerings by dish and directv.
        Its ridiculous that those satellite companies have the arrogance to offer “broadcast packages” that have a monthly fee, composed of nothing more than the exact same local channels you would get via antenna, and you have to pay extra for high definition versions of those channels no less through dish/directv.

        • I agree with Rick. A good antenna is really an important component of a cord cutter’s toolkit. I put a Mohu Sky in my attic, attached to the cables left by the previous homeowners. With it, I can consistently receive 28 unique video channels, including all the major broadcast networks. With my old PC and a discontinued USB tuner which I bought for $35 on closeout) running Windows 7, Windows Media Center, MCEBuddy, and MyMedia (all free and easy to set up), I have a whole house DVR system to stream OTA recordings to any devices in my house. For those who don’t want to bother with an HTPC, you can purchase one of the new Channel Master DVR+ and have a solid DVR solution for a single TV. Who needs ABC’s web site?

          The old guard in TV just seems to be intent on committing the same mistakes the music industry did before it finally saw the light a few years ago. Greed. Greed. Greed.

          • @birminghamforsale You said “The old guard in TV just seems to be intent on committing the same mistakes the music industry did before it finally saw the light a few years ago. ”

            That’s why ABC’s decision is actually good news for all quality independent video producers that stand to gain from every misguided action that the legacy big media moguls make. Truly, they are their own worst enemy.

        • Mark in Los Angeles

          I tried installing an OTA antenna at home after cutting the cord. The amount of effort and research required to get a decent signal was not worth it. I simply returned it to the store and haven’t tried since. It’s not ignorance: many of us simply won’t put up with the hassle of trying to get OTA broadcasting in this new “improved” digital world. I used to have no problem getting a signal on my TV before the conversion.

          • Chung Ya Dang

            Different antennas vary wildly in signal quality. People raved online about the sleek Mohu Leaf, which looks like a laminated piece of paper you can stick on the wall with velcro. That worked minimally for me (I am in mid-city Los Angeles). I absolutely could not receive channels 7, 9 or 13 with the Mohu Leaf. But compared with my space alien transmitter-looking Terk HDTVa Indoor Amplified High-Definition Antenna, which is admittedly not perfect, but I can definitely receive those signals for channels 7, 9 and 13. The trick is that the antenna is highly directional and needs to be pointing directly at Mt. Wilson northeast of Pasadena, which is where all the transmitter towers are. There’s an apartment building right in the line-of-sight of Mt. Wilson, so the only way to really get the signal better would be to have a rooftop antenna. But for what it is, a $50 indoor antenna that’s saving me $100/month in cable bills, I’m totally fine with it.

          • KP near Boston

            We have never had cable etc. After the digital conversion, we just continued with converter boxes and the small in-room antennas that we had before. Our 4 TVs get all of the major OTA networks and some of the minor ones. It’s more than enough to keep us entertained and eventually we will get digital TV’s, eliminating the converter boxes. The reception is excellent, far better than we had pre-digital.

            The only nuisance is that with converter boxes you can only set a VCR to record one channel. That will improve when we get new TVs, but then we will need digital recorders. I like the tapes of VCRs better than DVRs, plus DVRs seem to be tied to subscription services — some simple ones should be available for OTA viewers.

        • Some of us cannot use OTA antennas due to our location. For example, I need a view of Mt. Wilson in California. I do not have that visual, or anywhere near it from my home. So, please do not speak of ignorance when you do not know what causes all individuals choices. Additionally, we do not own an actual TV, nor do we want our children to be able to view without permission. Thus, viewing digitally on my laptop or nook is most convenient.

        • Duckbutter

          Or they’re missing out because the area they’re in doesn’t pick up any local channels with ANY antenna that’s not mounted to the roof. So those of us that want local channels are forced to pay.

    • I can do that, but to be honest, that is way too much work to do for ABC shows. I only watch agents of sheild and I don’t even love the show. If it was something like Sherlock, I would take the extra effort, but for a show as mediocre as agents of shield, I’m just going to stop watching. Good bye ABC! You just lost a viewer! (There are countless others like me)

    • Well unfortunately my tv provider (time warner) does not have abc family included, therefore I cannot watch on the air and I always would wait until the next day to watch shows online. Now I can’t.

    • Trailmix

      I can’t figure out what Abc and fox have to gain by forcing cord cutters to wait a week if they don’t pay for Hulu plus. That is a week’s worth of viewers notvwatching their commercials. Doesn’t that hurt their ad revenue in the long run?

      • KP near Boston

        I think it is that they get a kick-back from the subscription providers, and that is money in the hand vs an unknown response to the ads run during the online shows.

        It does, however, look very petty and greedy on the part of networks that do this. That is especially so considering that some do not have the option of subscription services, because of location or finances. I think I have seen that the elderly are a very large component of the OTA market. Even for those who could get cable but choose not to for various reasons, it is nasty to make us jump through hoops to keep up with a favorite show. It was simply civilized to offer online rebroadcasts within 24 hours, an excellent use of the internet.

        ABC used to have a friendly (although leftist) image. They just wrecked that.

      • I went to ABC Family’s website and attempted to watch a Pretty Little Liars episode that is months old, and could not. I’m not sure about the 8 day wait, it did not work for me.