ABC may offer live streaming apps, but not for cord cutters

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ABC is reportedly planning a mobile app for live, streaming television in an attempt to keep cable and satellite TV subscribers from jumping ship.

Would-be cord cutters need not get too excited, though, as the New York Times reports that the app would require a pay TV subscription. The Times' unnamed sources say the app could be available to some subscribers later this year.

ABC already offers on-demand streaming through Hulu, its own Website and apps for iOS and Windows 8/RT (shown in the screenshot above). But none of those options provide live streaming of on-air TV shows. If the Times' report is accurate, ABC would be the first major American broadcaster to stream its programming to mobile devices in real time. I reached out to ABC to verify its plans, but the network declined to comment for this story.

You can watch on-demand ABC content right now on an iPad app, but live streaming isn't yet in the mix.

The live streaming of ABC content wouldn't be a first for parent company Disney, however. Live streaming apps are already available for ESPN and the Disney Channel—but again, only to cable and satellite TV subscribers. As the Times notes, negotiating streaming deals for ABC's broadcast network could be extremely complicated because of how many parties—from individual show producers to local stations to pay TV providers—need buy-in.

Why shut out cord cutters? Big networks like ABC likely want to preserve some value for those lucrative cable and satellite subscriptions, even as they try to stem piracy by putting TV shows online. For the same reason, Fox delays its content from appearing online by eight days from the original air dates, even though this restriction has encouraged more piracy.

The problem with ABC's alleged plan is that it risks creating more confusion for paying customers. Rather than having a separate app for every channel, it would make more sense for TV networks to allow live streaming within cable and satellite providers' own apps. At the moment, however, those providers are limited in what they can offer.

Comcast's Xfinity app, for example, only provides on-demand shows, not live streaming. Time Warner Cable's app only allows live streaming while subscribers are at home. Dish Network provides live streaming from anywhere through its Hopper with Sling, but the company is now locked in a legal battle with networks over a related ad-skipping technology, and Fox has argued that the Sling adapter violates copyright.

But even as the industry drags its feet in some ways, there are signs of changes afoot in other ways: Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Verizon is looking to shake up the way it pays content providers for each channel, possibly clearing the way for lower prices and even a la carte programming. Cord cutters may not be winning the battle, but they're forcing the TV industry to change its tactics.

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