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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 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 (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 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 (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. Stephen Hoyt

    screw the ABC robber barons I just Google the shows on line and find offbeat websites from other country’s and still watch the shows for free!

  2. Sazziable

    They are just training us to learn how to wait longer, this isn’t going to add any real revenue. Cliffhangers from tv shows don’t have the same power over me like they used to, this will be true for other viewers as well. People adapt to new restrictions, people who cut the cable company out of the picture already have adapted to waiting for their favorite tv shows. We don’t have to watch it on the day it airs anymore. Hell, I can wait a year if I must. I’ve got better things to do.

  3. Laurie Morales

    I personally think this is utterly ridiculous!! I don’t have cable TV and get my TV service via an antennae so basically by implementing this change, ABC is saying I cannot watch the shows online until a week after they have originally aired. I would think that in this day and age where viewership is so incredibly important to the overall success of a show, that they would want viewers even if the viewers are watching their programs online. Not everyone can be sitting at the TV at the time when the shows are originally aired and yet they still want to be able to watch them AND NOT A WEEK AFTER THE FACT!!! Shame on ABC for doing this since not everyone can afford cable TV or be available every day at the time when the program is televised locally!!

  4. James S.

    I have never had cable nor satellite. I never understood why I should pay large amounts of money each month to watch excessive commercials when I can do that for free OTA. Also, I made a decision to never watch any ABC primetime shows back in 2010 since ABC prematurely cancelled Pushing Daisies, Samantha Who? and FlashForward back in 2009-10.

  5. Um yeah, I have digital bunny ears. I dont and will never pay for cable access, and them trying to strong arm me into paying for Hulu+ will not work. Sorry! If anything, I just see a surge in pirating torrents or people simply not watching it. I never understood the justification of making someone pay for watching something that is supposed to be free and a public service via broadcasting. The internet made it far too easy for these companies to look for loopholes in getting uber greedy, and finding ways to start charging people for something that used to be free.

  6. I don’t understand why they’re doing this. I can understand having a delay so that the tv stations can justify their ad prices. But why block it completely? Cord cutters are growing in number because we’re tired of the prices of cable and sat service. This is only promoting illegal downloading or just skipping the network offerings all together.

    Without a digital receiver and an antenna, you can’t get local stations. And even with those, if you live in the boonies, you won’t get anything. It’s not like the old days where you could just turn on the tv and adjust the antenna it came with.