ABC on demand

February 25, 2008 5:55:31 PM PST
ABC said Monday it will release hit shows like "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" for free over video-on-demand cable services, with the hitch that viewers will have to sit through commercials without being able to fast-forward.

The Walt Disney Co., parent company of the network, is aiming to profit from ads sold for the video-on-demand offerings while expanding its digital strategy beyond programs distributed on its Web site,

"We're trying to drive everyone back to television but very much understand that with everybody's lifestyles, they can't necessarily watch that way and we don't want to lose them altogether," Disney spokeswoman Karen Hobson said.

The announcement follows an agreement between ABC and its more than 200 affiliate stations around the country.

Affiliates had in the past limited the amount of content ABC could redistribute in nontraditional ways because of their concern about the ratings impact on stations. But the video-on-demand deal offers them a financial incentive to participate.

Under the deal, local affiliates will be able to sell one 30-second ad on the content, while ABC will sell from four to nine other commercials to national advertisers.

That amounts to two to five minutes of commercials for an hourlong program, compared to 17 minutes or more for a show on regular TV, Hobson said.

The agreement initially involves cable provider Cox Communications Inc., which has some 6 million subscribers, of which 3.1 million have digital set-top boxes that allow them to access video-on-demand services.

The deal follows a monthslong trial for Cox subscribers in Orange County. Some 93 percent of the users found the ads acceptable in exchange for the free service, the companies said.

Cox spokesman David Grabert said the customers mainly wanted more content.

"Anything we can do to bring greater convenience to our customers is better for us," Grabert said.