ABC puts TV shows online for free

Latest news in the rapidly-developing world of Internet TV: ABC is putting Desperate Housewives, Lost, Commander in Chief, and Alias up as free Webcasts, the day after their broadcast premieres. You'll be able to jump from chapter to chapter, but--here's the gotcha--there will be commercials you can't skip.

I'm not yet sure what technology ABC is using, or or whether it'll deliver gorgeous full-screen video or a tiny, choppy window. We're presumably talking streaming-only viewing here, not downloads you can take with you. (ABC is, of course, selling downloadable shows via Apple's iTunes Music Store.) All of this is a two-month test that begins in May.

ABC also announced Soapnetic, a broadband TV channel for Verizon DSL customers featuring some pretty old-school content: soap operas. I'm not sure whether this will only be available on Verizon for marketing or technical reasons. But even though I've never watched an entire episode of a soap opera in my life--okay, maybe one or two back in the golden age of Luke and Laura--I'm happy to see niche broadband programming channels start to pop up.

Internet TV is still in its very, very early stages, and not every content owner is being as bold as Disney/ABC in trying out different technologies and business models. Still, it's pretty remarkable how much has happened in just the past few months.

Between the shows available on iTunes and AOL's In2TV and NBC's Webcasts of the evening news and Google Video's for-pay episodes of stuff like I Love Lucy and other developments, a lot of TV has made the transition to the Net all of a sudden. Content owners seem to be a lot more open-minded and experimental than they were when music started to go digital...and that can only be healthy.

Do you see yourself watching any of these ABC shows on the Web? And do non-skippable commercials sound like an affront, or a reasonable deal? (You can always do what people have done for sixty years to avoid TV ads: wander off to the kitchen or bathroom when a commercial comes on...)

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Harry McCracken

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