ABC will use this Sunday's Oscars telecast as a carrot to lure viewers to its Watch ABC mobile and web video services. But the Alphabet net is setting up a digital velvet rope: It will let only subscribers of participating pay-TV providers in eight markets watch the full show over the Internet.
In another change, ABC this year has retired its standalone Oscars app, which the network debuted in 2011 to provide live looks into the action backstage and on the red carpet. Instead, that content will be folded into Watch ABC, but will be available to anyone in the U.S. for free.
The decision to phase out the dedicated Oscars app was made to get the content "in front of the largest addressable audience without them having to download a separate app," said Karin Gilford, senior VP of digital media for ABC Television Network.
The Oscars Backstage content, produced by the Academy and Disney/ABC Television Group's Digital Media team, is sponsored against by the Samsung Galaxy mobile device brand. That will feature three channels pulled from 15 live cameras strategically placed on the red carpet and throughout the backstage areas of the Dolby Theatre, including the "thank-you cam," winners' walk and the press room. Users will also be able to access the official Oscar Buzz social feed and photo galleries from within the app.
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"We're excited to once again bring viewers backstage and allow them to experience all of the action on Oscar Sunday -- not just what happens on stage, but the stories that play out behind the scenes as well," Josh Spector, managing director of digital media and marketing for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, said in a statement.
But to watch the full kudocast, you need to be lucky enough to live in the right place -- and have the right pay-TV provider. The show's livestream will be available to Watch ABC authenticated users through eight providers: Comcast, Cablevision, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Midcontinent Communications, Verizon FiOS, Google Fiber and AT&T U-verse. The service is available only in ABC's eight owned-station markets: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Fresno, Calif.
Here's why ABC is putting up the gate: to have leverage in negotiations with cable, satellite and telco TV operators, which the network wants to charge extra to be able to give their subs access to the full Watch ABC complement of programming (such as day-after-air full episodes of primetime shows). Fox is following the same model, although it opted to provide a free "preview" of the Fox Sports Go authenticated service during this month's Super Bowl.
To date, Watch ABC apps have been downloaded more than 16 million times, while the authenticated Watch ABC website is attracting 10 million unique visitors per month, according to Gilford. (Hearst Television agreed to launch Watch ABC in 13 markets but hasn't gone live yet.)
Meanwhile, video highlights from the telecast and the Oscars Backstage will be available as embeddable clips on Oscar.com shortly after they air, within an average of 5-10 minutes, according to Gilford. That will include -- for the first time -- full performances of the show's musical numbers by Oscar nominees including Pharrell ("Happy"), Idina Menzel, ("Let It Go"), Karin O ("The Moon Song) and U2 ("Ordinary Love"). The site's "Musical Moments" section is sponsored by Pepsi.
Oscar.com also will provide a showcase of nominees "in their own words," a collection of official questionnaires filled out by thesps including Bradley Cooper, Bruce Dern, Michael Fassbender, June Squibb and Sally Hawkins, as well as quizzes about previous years' shows. The popular interactive ballot is back: It can be viewed and shared on Facebook, and will update in real time during the kudocast.
Following Sunday's show, the full Oscars telecast and preshow will be available on demand via Watch ABC (again, only for verified viewers) for three days, through Wednesday, March 5. Watch ABC can be accessed from Oscar.com, ABC.com, WatchABC.com or via apps for select Android devices and iOS.
In addition, Watch ABC authenticated users will be able to watch the 9th annual "Jimmy Kimmel Live: After the Oscars" special, airing Sunday, March, 2 after late local news ET/CT and at 10 p.m. PT on ABC. The Kimmel show will be available live and on demand via Watch ABC.
ABC Will Live-Stream Oscars to Web, Mobile Apps for First Time -- But There's a Catch
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