ABC's Oscars live stream was dead in the water


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So if Twitter and Samsung were the big winners at the Oscars Sunday night, the loser was definitely ABC—at least from a cord-cutting perspective. The first-ever live stream was a total flop.

Even after with all the restrictions set up by the Disney-owned network—users needed to have a paid TV subscription from one of eight supported providers and live in one of eight major markets where ABC owns its own TV station—the live stream just didn’t work.

An ABC rep told Variety that the stream was down for the majority of the telecast “due to a traffic overload greater than expected,” even though three out of the four biggest providers (Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, and Dish Network) didn’t have access to begin with.

ABC took a skewering on Twitter for the crappy performance, and our friends up in Canada has problems with CTV’s live feed not working either.

It’s not like streaming huge events like this can’t be done. Just last month, Super Bowl XLVIII was the most-viewed live-streamed sporting event in U.S. history, and Fox made it available to everyone in the country. Companies don’t just do these live streams out of the goodness of their corporate hearts, either: More viewers means more advertising dollars of course, and research firm SNL Kagan estimated that in 2014, network broadcasters will earn more than $3 billion in retransmission fees, or the money paid by cable and satellite providers for the rights to stream the content.

ABC may have hoped the Oscars live stream would incentivize Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, and Dish Network to sign new distribution deals—the same reason ABC is currently blocking streaming TV series to those same subscribers via its Watch ABC site and mobile apps. But end users can’t be expected to care about these deals between broadcasters and pay-TV providers—how many people are going to actually switch from, say, Dish Network to Cablevision in order to stream full episodes of Modern Family?

All users know is that some networks make it easy to watch their programming online, and some don’t. And guess which ones they’re going to gravitate to, as more than half of U.S. Internet users are expected to watch TV and movies online this year? The networks who make it easy—or at least make it work.

Then again, ABC would hardly call Sunday’s Oscar telecast a flop, judging by the traditionap way TV networks measure success. Forty-three million people watched this year’s ceremony—the highest-rated Oscars in a decade.

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