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Next TV Summit: ABC Sets Big Goals for ‘Watch ABC’ App

Disney/ABC Exec Albert Cheng Intends to Take the Idea of TV Everywhere to Task 9/11/2013 7:58 PM Eastern

The Disney/ABC Television Group has a big goal in mind for “Watch ABC,” the authenticated service that provides access to ABC’s full 24-hour feed on iOS devices, Kindle Fire tablets and on the Web at WatchABC.com. In fact, the company intends to take the concept of TV Everywhere to heart and, you know, offer it everywhere.

“The goal, ultimately, is to have every possible American be able to access their local station,” Albert Cheng (pictured), the executive vice president and chief product officer, digital media at Disney/ABC Television Group, said here during a keynote interview with Broadcasting & Cable editor-in-chief Melissa Grego.

Watch ABC has a ways to go yet to hit that goal, but the app did reach an important milestone this week, when KFSN in Fresno rolled it out, meaning that Watch ABC is now available in all eight ABC-owned stations markets. It was launched earlier in Houston (KTRK), New York City (WABC-TV), Philadelphia (WPVI-TV), Los Angeles (KABC-TV), Chicago (WLS-TV), San Francisco (KGO-TV) and Raleigh-Durham (WTVD-TV) markets.

“It’s a long and steady road to get there,” Cheng said, noting that getting more on board will require educating everyone in the ecosystem. While it’s a “cool product” on its own, Watch ABC also represents “an organizational transition in the industry.”

But Cheng and his team know how to put the pedal down when it’s needed. The initial plan was to launch Watch ABC in January 2014, but, at the direction of Anne Sweeney, the co-chair of Disney Media Network and president of Disney/ABC Television Group, Cheng’s group found itself tasked with getting it off the ground in five weeks, in time for the upfronts.

He said Sweeney felt strongly that “consumers couldn’t wait that long; mobile viewing was going to be very important to them. She was pretty clear she wanted us to stretch and launch it in five weeks.”

The good news was that the technology was largely in place, because the group had already launched Watch Disney. The challenge with the ABC app was the rights and geo-location restrictions, which meant involving a much broader set of people.

“That effort…was about mobilizing the whole Disney Television Group,” Cheng recalled. “Restrictions are based on rights of given to the stations and how their programming can travel. It’s a patchwork of rights…. You just can’t take the New York [feed] with you to L.A.”

Cheng was also asked about the role of second screen apps, predicting that it’s an industry that’s ripe for consolidation. “The ones that end up surviving will be the ones that still have cash. Those trying to get second or third rounds of funding will have a hard time.”

He said examples of those that are among those best positioned to last include IntoNow from Yahoo and Zeebox, which counts Comcast as a backer.

Cheng said his group is starting to think differently about how to use second screen apps. While they are good for encouraging more engagement with sporting events and reality competition shows and awards shows, they aren’t as well suited for serial dramas, as they can be distracting and take the viewer’s attention away from the storyline.

Cheng received a Digital Leadership Award at the Next TV Summit, hosted by Broadcasting & Cable and Multichannel News on Sept. 10 and 11.

September