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ABC Bringing HD Experience Online

Jun 17, 2007  •  Post A Comment

In July, ABC will become the first network to stream its prime-time shows in high-definition. It’s beginning a two-month trial on ABC.com that will morph into a full commercial launch in September.
During the summer trial, ABC wants to learn what percentage of its online audience can watch shows in hi-def, whether they will stay tuned longer, whether they are more likely to connect their computer to a television, and how the consumption patterns vary for hi-def and standard-definition programming.
Both the beta and the fall commercial launch are accessible for any online consumer to try.
ABC’s efforts come as networks kick the tires on a range of online video strategies. For instance, NBC Universal and News Corp. will distribute shows later this summer across more than 95 percent of the Internet via their joint venture. ABC, by contrast, has focused on distribution of its shows on its own site and on iTunes.
Industry experts consider ABC a leader in online video because it was the first network to stream shows on its site and the first to strike a deal with iTunes. TelevisionWeek’s Daisy Whitney spoke to Alexis Rapo, VP of digital media at ABC, about the network’s expectations for hi-def content online.
TelevisionWeek: Why are you offering shows online in hi-def?
Alexis Rapo: As we continue to try and expand what we are doing with full episodes on the Web, this was the next natural step — to do a high-quality video experience.
TVWeek: What can users expect next month when this launches?
Ms. Rapo: You will come into the full-episode player as you do today and you will see the episodes load in the lobby. So we will add in there a hi-def channel graphically. This is where you can watch the shows in hi-def. When the users click into that, they will get a screen that comes up and gives them the indication of the bandwidth and hardware they will need to fully experience it.
We want to manage expectations. If people have a slow connection or an older computer, they won’t be able to experience it.
TVWeek: What do consumers need to have to be able to watch in hi-def online?
Ms. Rapo: Most computers bought within the last year should be able to handle it. We are designing this so it’s not much different than the experience you have today when you enter ABC.com. When you click on the hi-def video, there will be a moment of buffering and some messaging that will take place … letting you know there is a few seconds’ delay.
TVWeek: How will the capabilities change in the fall?
Ms. Rapo: It will change from a programming perspective. We are launching a beta in July with one episode each from “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Ugly Betty,” so it’s a limited program release. As we develop shows for the fall, all the returning shows and new fall shows we are working on will have hi-def versions.
TVWeek: How close is the online experience to hi-def on the TV, and is that the endgame?
Ms. Rapo: We are not trying to make it close to TV. I can’t speak to how close it is to the TV, but I can tell you the level of quality in leaves on trees and definitely in people’s faces is amazing and has not been done before online.
TVWeek: NBC Universal and Fox are going for breadth and seeking ubiquitous distribution of their shows on the Web. Your focus is on ABC.com. Why?
Ms. Rapo: Our strategy is two-pronged in terms of consumers and the ad community. This is allowing them to know that ABC, whether ABC Television or ABC.com, are the destinations to really start their experience with our shows. If they are going to start their experience at ABC.com, the video experience should be the best one possible.
TVWeek: Do you see all of Web video going hi-def?
Ms. Rapo: We are hoping to deliver an experience for those [consumers] and they will say, “How did we watch it any other way?”
TVWeek: How much more does this cost?
Ms. Rapo: There is an increase, but we don’t talk about costs. There is a slight uptick.
TVWeek: Will ad rates be higher? How will this investment pay off for you?
Ms. Rapo: In terms of the actual cost and the advertising we don’t know what the usage is yet. The beta this summer will be an indicator of what we can expect. If people are having an overall better experience watching video, you could make an argument it’s more likely they will consume more video. And in a world of advertising that is a benefit to an advertiser.

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