Two years ago, Disney CEO Bob Iger yanked the rug from under local ABC stations by putting shows on Apple’s iTunes — without asking their permission. The move signaled a power-shift away from the local stations, which have long had outsized influence on the big networks. But it’s a very gradual power-shift: If the networks want to change the way they do business, they’ve still got to placate the local guys.
Take ABC’s video-on-demand deal announced today. ABC convinced its local TV affiliates to sign on to a deal that allows cable guys to offer ABC shows on-demand. The only catch: Viewers who order the shows can’t skip the ads.
This is basically the same proposition that Disney offers on ABC.com and other sites it syndicates to, and it’s made for the same reason — ABC wants to assure the affiliates that they won’t get screwed when viewers abandon broadcast TV. And in order to soften the blow, they let the affiliates sell local ads in a few slots, as well.
A couple of years ago, that wouldn’t have been nearly enough to appease the affiliates, but over time they’re losing bargaining power, because it’s clear the viewers are leaving TV regardless of what anyone does — they can only hope to mitigate the pain. And in this case the affiliates even gave something up: They’re lifting some “repurposing restrictions” and allowing ABC can to sell more of its shows on iTunes.
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