ABC to expand VOD offerings

Local spots, no skipping key to deal

ABC and its affiliates have reached an agreement to expand the amount of network content made available on a VOD basis through cable and other distributors, with the affils getting the right to sell local commercials in those VOD shows.

The agreement allows ABC local affiliate stations to participate in fast-forwarding disabled VOD, which prevents viewers from bypassing commercials. It also lifts ABC's repurposing restrictions, which will now allow expanded opportunities to repurpose network programming at any time via VOD as well as through other services, like iTunes and Xbox, with whom ABC has distribution deals.

Under the deal, ABC will provide network programs through a local ad-supported VOD service in both owned- and non-owned station markets to cable, DBS, telco and land-line operators who agree to disable the fast-forwarding capabilities.

The number of commercials in VOD episodes is still to be determined but will be fewer than those in a first-run broadcast. Each affiliate will be able to insert one locally sold commercial spot per each half-hour of programming.

"The ABC affiliate board has endorsed this plan and recommends it to the affiliate membership," said Ray Cole, chairman of the ABC Television Affiliates Assn.

ABC and Cox Communications have been partnering on a free VOD trial in Orange County, which found that 93% of users said they would be willing to give up the fast-forwarding option and watch the commercials if they could get the VOD programming for free.

"Customer behavior and response to our follow-up survey questions indicated that they really liked having access to these popular shows via On Demand, that they wanted more content and that they did not mind being exposed to advertising," Cox president Pat Esser said.

John Consoli is senior editor at MediaWeek.