ABC Offers Authenticated Streaming of New and Returning Shows, With Caveats

Oriana Schwindt

The broadcast networks’ march toward authenticated binge-able viewing options continues slowly but surely. ABC said Monday it will make all episodes of its new shows available for streaming on its ABC app and That includes ABC-produced series “Designated Survivor,” “Conviction,” and “American Housewife.” A few returning series will have the full-season stack available as well, like “Quantico.”

There are a number of heavy-hitter returning series that are not included in this stacking development: “Grey’s Anatomy,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Modern Family,” “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and others. Those series will have the standard five most recent episodes available for viewing, because stacking rights to those shows are already spoken for.

And in order to have access to the full seasons of the shows, you need to log in through your pay TV provider. Doing so also gives you access to a live stream of your local ABC affiliate, if you live in a market where the local ABC station is on board with the network’s streaming plan.

If you don’t have a pay TV provider, you can still watch the last five episodes to air (a “rolling five”) on or the ABC app; the same episodes for these series are also, for the most part, available on Hulu. Later in the season, that might be an impediment to cord-cutters or cord-nevers attempting to catch up, but for now, most of ABC’s fall series haven’t even aired five episodes yet.

Still, it’s another step toward where many younger eyeballs have gone, and for some of these new series, ABC could use the viewership boost. While many of its shows are seeing ratings lifts of 100% or more once viewership within seven days of premiere is counted, those audiences still lag behind those of last season in many cases. For the first week of the season, the ratings points ABC delivered to advertisers were down 26% on average compared to 2015.

ABC joins NBC and Fox in making inroads in the ongoing stacking rights war that puts in the networks in the middle of a skirmish involving studio suppliers, MVPDs and SVOD buyers, notably Netflix. Networks are keen to make their shows available to audiences in a way they are growing accustomed to — which is to say, on devices other than a TV, and at a time of their choosing.

But that can push down the price a series fetches when shopped to streaming services, giving studios pause. Netflix will pay beaucoup bucks for “Grey’s Anatomy,” “SHIELD” and “How to Get Away With Murder” if people can only watch the five most recently aired episodes during the season. What Netflix and other streaming services don’t want is to compete with binge-viewing options offered by broadcasters on their own on-demand platforms.

And there’s the wrinkle of MVPDs not loving the idea of shelling out billions of dollars in carriage fees when their customers can unshackle themselves from the bundle and still have access to the same content — thus the authentication requirements for access to most of these full stacks.

NBC has a similar set-up to ABC, with 90% of its fall series available to stream their full seasons for pay TV customers. (NBC is even offering all episodes of freshman comedy “The Good Place” for free to non-pay TV customers.) Both NBC and Fox also have episodes available on Hulu, owned by Fox, NBCU, Disney and Time Warner.

The CW recently abandoned its in-season streaming partnership with Hulu and will only offer a rolling five to those who want to stream on its site or app — though viewers won’t have to authenticate through a pay TV provider. Netflix will get the rights to the full seasons of CW series eight days after the end of each season.

CBS has a different method altogether, one that allows for non-pay TV customers to have the same access to full seasons of CBS-owned series — for $5.99 a month, with over-the-top service CBS All Access. All Access also offers an ad-free version of All Access for $9.99 a month.

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