Why You Can’t Watch ABC Online

I cut the cord with cable a long time ago.  It’s been a great experience for me, and an amazing money saver to boot.  I wrote about how to cut the cord with cable and how I’m using my Roku and PlayOn TV to watch the shows I want to see.  While it isn’t perfect and doesn’t cover every network and every show, it covers everything I care about except some sports.  Not anymore.  The online streaming of ABC changed on January 6, and now you need to sign in to your cable provider to watch new shows.

ABC has changed the rules of streaming their shows. Here's wat you need to know.

I have a major philosophical issue with this, as ABC is network television and meant to be free tv.  When you stream ABC, you have to watch commercials.  In fact, you watch a lot of commercials.  There are six commercial breaks in an hour long show, one before the show starts and five throughout the episode, and you cannot fast forward through them or change apps on your tablet or phone to avoid them.  You’re pretty much forced to watch them, unlike when I used to use my VCR to tape show or even my DVR where I could fast forward.

Streaming has 6 commercial breaks per hour show

Apparently ABC has decided that they aren’t making enough money from the commercials, and now you have to have an affiliation with an approved cable provider to stream new ABC shows.  Whether it’s because they can’t charge enough per viewing of the commercials online or their shows cost too much to make and license or some other problem altogether, address that root cause.  This is not the answer.  Within two days, ABC’s iOS app already had over 3,000 one star reviews.  They updated it to fix some (not insignificant) bugs, and already there are almost 1,500 1 star reviews compared to 14 five star reviews.  That should tell you something there.

My personal opinion aside, this is the reality at the moment.  ABC is following the trend of Fox and CBS in making this change, as Fox has long required you to provide you cable provider to watch recent shows (but I’ll be honest, there aren’t any Fox shows I watch, so I sort of hadn’t cared).  CBS has been late to the game in providing online streaming, and again there aren’t any CBS shows I’m interested in watching  primarily because they haven’t streamed shows in the past.  While CBS doesn’t require you (yet) to have a cable subscription, they simply don’t load shows to their app until a week has passed, which is essentially the same result.  NBC, however, still keeps free tv as free tv for all, not just those who are (over?)paying for cable with select providers.  For now.  You know it’s a matter of time, right?

ABC?  If you’re listening, I have a message for you.  There are some shows that I’m willing to wait to watch, but not many.  And those are only the shows that I currently watch and love, which is down to four (yep, just four) right now.  Three I’ll wait to watch, but the fourth?  Nope.  So that means you just lost a viewer.  When they go off the air, I won’t be searching for new ABC shows to replace them.  I’ll find other ways to spend my time, and that’s fewer eyeballs you’ll have anywhere.  You can’t stop the tide of change.  People simply don’t sit down on a Thursday night to watch live television anymore.  More and more of us are cutting the cord with cable for a variety of reasons.  If you want to retain a fraction of your viewership, this is a decision you need to seriously revisit.

So what’s up with the new ABC app?  I’ve been exploring and testing and playing with it for awhile, and I at least have some answers to what you can and can’t do.

Can I just not update the Watch ABC app and keep watching my shows?
Nope.  When you open the app anytime after January 6, you are given the message that this version of the app is no longer supported and that you have to update the app.  You can either choose to not update it and simply not stream ABC anymore, or you can update it with the new restrictions.

If I don’t have cable, can I watch nothing?
Fortunately, no.  I have a feeling there would be some regulatory involvement if the networks made all their shows pay only.  Shows are available for select cable subscribers the day after they air.  They are then available to everyone one week after they air.  So if you’re up for watching Grey’s Anatomy seven days after it airs, you can still do so.

ABC shows less than a week old require verification to watch

How do I know what I can view if I don’t have an approved cable plan?
When you open the app and view the television shows, episodes that are in their “protected period” will have a bar across them “VERIFY TO VIEW.”  If you click on one, it will ask you to sign in with an approved cable subscription.  These shows will also list how long until the protected period expires so you know when you can come back to watch it without a subscription.

The show I want to watch is expiring soon.  That’s not fair!
From what I can see, shows will be uploaded for streaming twice.  The protected period upload will have the one week countdown and the verified requirement.  Once that period has passed, the episode will be pulled and reuploaded with for streaming accessible to everyone.  Those shows will have no notifications on them, and they don’t state when they will expire.  Typically, five episodes (including the protected viewing episodes, if any) are available at any given time, but sometimes there are fewer or (rarely) more.

If I have cable, am I set to watch just like I did before?
Only if you are lucky enough to live where the cable provider has partnered with ABC.  Right now, only some providers are participating, though this may change going forward.  For ABC, if you have a cable subscription with AT&T U-verse, Charter, Cox, Google fiber, Midcontinent Communications, Optimum, Verizon FiOS, or Xfinity, you are set.  If you have any other provider, you’re out of luck.  That includes major cable providers like Time Warner, as well as Dish and Direct TV.

Cable partners that will allow you to watch ABC online

How do I log in if I have a subscription with one of the participating cable providers?
Click on any episode that has VIEW TO VERIFY on it.  That will take you to the list of cable partners.  Select your cable provider, which will open a new page where you enter your credentials.  Once you’ve signed in, it should take you back to the show you wanted to view and keep you logged in going forward.  That said, it doesn’t (yet) work perfectly.  You may need to close the app and reopen it before it accepts your login.

Sign in to your cable account to watch ABC shows online

If I stream television via Roku or Apple TV, can I watch ABC protected view episodes?
Yes… and no.  If you had access to ABC streaming to your television via a third party provider previously, you may be able to.  If you subscribe to Hulu+, you can still watch the recent episodes you’ve subscribed to, for example.  If you watch them using Hulu without upgrading (which I do – or did), you can sign in to your AT&T U-verse, Cox, Optimum, or Verizon and watch current episodes.  Not that Comcast’s Xfinity is not on that list, though it is a partner with the Watch ABC app, which means that I’m out of luck.  PlayOn TV does not currently have a way to provide a username and password for a cable provider to allow you to access those channels, though that coding may change going forward.  There are other channels where PlayOn TV is already set up to allow login access.

If I don’t have an approved cable subscription, can I still watch my daily shows?
Here lies a big flaw in the setup.  Daily shows like The View or General Hospital are protected for seven days, just like other shows.  And typically, only five episodes are retained at a time.  If you don’t have a cable subscription, the episodes are completely deleted before the protected period is over, and you are out of luck.

Daily shows on ABC expire before you can watch them if you don't subscribe to cable

The message?  Television is currently trying to maintain the status quo.  They want people to watch shows live.  They want the current cable empire to continue as is.  That isn’t where the world is moving, and ABC’s online streaming is just the latest fallout as networks and other companies navigate the constantly changing landscape.  Will this stick?  I sincerely hope not, but it’s what we have to deal with today.

Want change?  Speak up.  Talk to ABC.  Talk to regulators.  Talk to your cable company.  Make noise and make your voice heard.  I’ve seen and heard from so many people who have simply deleted the ABC app and won’t be watching the network at all, and those are the kinds of actions that speak loudest because they affect companies in the pocketbook when they don’t get ad revenue from the eyeballs that aren’t watching their streaming shows.




  1. As the new season began I noticed this. Your article explains what I painfully discovered on my own. ABC should be ashamed of themselves, especially since I do have a TV provider, but one of the three they don’t support. What the heck? You can’t even watch on Hulu without subscribing. Time to stop watching ABC!

    • You’re right! And that is what I did. I have the option to watch their offerings with my antenna, but I don’t do it often. I don’t use HULU, because I benefit by using only Amazon. I get to see a lot of free shows that way. Don’t have time to mess with ABC. Either they come of age and stream their programming, or they will miss out on our business.

    • I found this out when they made the decision to do this. I am SOL because I am one of those people that does not have cable. We have a digital broadcast antenna and yes, we have all the local channels available to us but broadcast tv is also not covered under ABC’s confirm your provider to watch rule. So iif I want to watch something after it has broadcast I too am pretty much out of luck. The other channel we don’t get which I don’t understand is ABC Family ( the last time I looked ABC family is an ABC channel right????

      Bad moves ABC bad moves…. way to lose viewers.

      • ABC Family, I’ll give them. That is a cable channel that ABC runs (much like MSNBC, etc). I get that I may not have access to that, but when you don’t subscribe to the “right” cable company, it’s frustrating to not be able to watch the shows that are part of the broadcast network.

    • Debbie Pfred I think you are referring to it’s abc.go.com I don’t like their programing shows at all you would like watching the abc family programming shows

  2. some people dont get the free stations either they’re jerks !!!!!! thanks abc for nothing but heart ache cant watch my shows!!!!!!

    • I am not sure I understand that. All of the local channels were required to change to HD, and they all still broadcast over the airwaves. It takes some new technology antennas to receive from long distances, and they are available. I you live in the mountains or in Death Valley, I guess you won’t have coverage. At this point I will stop watching TV altogether rather than going back to being screwed by Comcast.

  3. Theres a super simple solution it’s called WatchSeries

  4. ExtortionIsBadMkay says:

    I just decided not to bother with it. Most of the shows I want to watch (Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, etc.) are available to stream at different “non-approved” sites. I use Chrome with AdBlock Plus on my laptop, so I don’t even see any of their annoying ads. Vive la résistance!

  5. Direct tv is NOT one of the providers listed. If you have direct tv you just have to wait a week. Haven’t found an answer for why except speculation that it’s all about contractual BS.

  6. So you want to freeload? You’re angry because ABC has always been free and because it is no longer free you feel entitled? Did I miss something? Since when did TV providers have to give anything free. Besides, over the air tv is still free so if you want to be cheap and not pay for cable to get the streaming then watch it over the air. If every network gave you free streaming then no one would watch cable so the networks would not make any money to stay in business. Go to FOX, AMC, HBO or any other channel and see if they give you free streaming. They all make you pay so it is only right that ABC should too. Advertising alone does not foot the bill for programming.

    • I do not expect it for free, I have DirecTv and pay a lot for it but DirecTv is not on their list!!

    • I was angry when my local ABC didn’t even air the middle or modern family one wed and replaced it with a stupid basketball game. Didn’t air the shows later or repeat them!! And I have dish, which I like except for abc’s greedy self. It would be one thing if, like all the other channels(not CBS, fox, NBC) they would repeat the shows a couple of times a week. If my power goes out during game of thrones HBO repeats it like 20 times throughout the week and dish anywhere app allows anytime streaming of ALL HBO shows AND movies. HBO has a ton of movies and I like all their shows. ABC has no movies and four shows I like. I’m not paying for such little content. Their daytime stuff is crap. I like comedy & SciFi not all that drama & housewife talkshow crap. That’s my biggest problem with these networks. They only have one or two shows I watch. The rest are on the repeat channels like AMC, USA, BBC… They’re stuck in the 80’s. And the local channels anger me with interruptions either sports or “breaking news.” We have no tornadoes or anything serious but they sure think it is!! And it happens on DVR too when the news has past.

      • Local stations preempting national programming to show their own shows has been a problem since I started watching television in the early 1960s. Even though it does cost additional money and sometimes requires subscribing to a cable or satellite service, I am thankful there are options like iTunes purchases, Netflix, Hulu, and apps like WatchABC.

        • sandy allen says:

          I do subscribe to dish. Its not like there’s an ABC channel, its always a local. I shouldn’t have to pay over 100$ a month plus to not see my program and then pay an extra 2$ to watch it online. Any other network except the idiot five(ABC,NBC,CBS,cw&fox) repeat their shows so if my power or satellite goes out I can watch my show at another time, usually before the new episode the following week. Also, no one wants a bunch if apps on their devices for one show here or there. It would be one thing if abc go included all there channels, USA, ABC family, all the Disney channels and so forth, but they don’t. I usually watch one or two shows from each channel and these networks don’t seem to get it!! They’re greedy. Plain & simple. The time of actors, directors… making millions is over and unnecessary. Meanwhile the creators still don’t make much. They’re holding on by a thread and hopefully the tech industry will snap it.

  7. I would take what you wrote a little more to heart if I was not forced to look at the Toys R Us ad that scrolls along with this blog. Ther is an x to close it out but does not work. So it seems that you are doing the same thing the networks are doing in their apps. so that you can get paid by your advitisors for your blog.

    • I understand what you’re saying, Heather, but note that my point is not against the networks being able to advertise. I respect their right to make money off their programming. My entire point is that I am already watching their commercials but if you don’t have a select cable provider, we now have to wait a week to watch a broadcast network’s television.

      • Heather, I use Firefox for my primary browser, Startpage for default goto page, installed these add-on’s = NoScript, Adblock plus and Lightbeam for safe-er surfing. Though you must turn on each script because of NoScript to see or interact with many websites, you should leave them on temporarily till you can easily read up to see if that script-site is safe or not. So the end result is no or fewer adverts a christmas lite a blink’n and a smaller chance of catch’n a cold if you stumble onto a malware/hacked website. This comment is only a sidebar to the orig – ABC topic here

  8. I’m not a big TV watcher, but I do pay for cable. I have kids, family and friends that like TV when they are at my home, so I pay the price. However, I am quite frustrated that after my 60 plus hour work week and paying what I consider too much for what I watch that I cannot stream ABC like I do all of the other networks. If this is the model other networks will follow, I’ll be keeping my nearly $3000 year cable fund to my self. I think I’ll by myself something nice…

  9. Spending your hard earned money wisely is always in vogue and each prior comment here brings good points. When children are involved, a parent should watch/preview the shows & commercials seen by the ‘lil ones because show writers add lots of hidden adult only themes to these “kids” programs and advertisers directly market to our kids anyway, so please be a parent = and help your child understand/learn your values (because they’ll learn someone’s)
    After much procrastination on my part – I installed an OTA TV antenna I kept stored for years, disconnected my 3 yr old Directv DVR setup this November, (Wow! great signal for ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS stations) connected to existing TV/Sat cables that ran to smart tv’s (LAN cable attached) and a pc running a dual tv tuner card (WINTV-7) card also works directly with Windows Media Center. That pc already ran 24×7 – recording IP security cameras/motion detectors around my home’s perimeter. If you bought everything new or through a vendor = the complete antenna, tower, rotor, signal pre-amp, cables could easily top $900 (my total was $250) Look at craigslist (or use it via searchtempest.com) for local deals or try ebay and amazon. You may have an existing desktop pc with capable performance, my tv tuner card cost $60. I had everything except the 2000 lbs of concrete for the tower base ($90 from Lowes) I made a swingdown towerbase that doesn’t require guy wires to support it. I was spending $1400 year for DTV service, now have free OTA TV service w/DVR for shows, news, movies with no load on the pc. I still continue to review a future purchase of internet based streaming tv boxes like Roku WDHDTV AppleTV that have more functions then my Samsung smart tv’s and services like Hulu+ AmazonPrime iTunes netflicks and others. These services are very dependent on reliable, fast internet service – so don’t omit this in your testing. Also, the video streaming sites are under attack by the “Net Neturality Foe’s” so just like the service Aereo TV, the box/provider you select can be gone in blick – or worse – become cost prohibitive next month. HBO says their going to offer direct to the internet only subscribers in 2015 bypassing the cable/Sat providers (wait & see if they muscle through the change or get beat down by the cable/Sat money) You always have to pay to play = just don’t throw your money away (unless it’s to me – LOL) I’m a good/great charity. I don’t post to blogs so this is a 1st. I’m going through this now. This is also an open note to Michelle as I used to work/based out of Northlake yrs ago, have a cousin who retired from Chicago FD. My grandfather worked within the loop even after moving up to the northern suburb of Delavan WI. Yes – even saw Johnny Cougar play his new music in Melrose Park clubs b4 he got found.

    This topic helps if you have options like putting up an antenna (or you should create them) Don’t be in a rush – make a plan – then transition to it. Put everything into a spreadsheet and review it. Items, costs, TV shows – anything. I used http://www.tvfool.com or http://www.antennaweb.org for help with what I could expect for local tv reception and pointing the antenna (yes – I have a rotor but I’m finding I’m leaving the antenna point to 1 location) Also use old school = looked at nearby homes with tv antennas or asked. Most of my setup was paid for before I started but I’m still going through some withdraws for my 6 DTV/cable channels I watched/recorded shows from (for easy viewing – but pc broswer web based sites can be a source of malware if it’s a rogue site so Be Carefull or be a fool with a hacked pc) I tend to view the whole season after is ends = over a couple of nights – so what’s the problem? Control of the remote for easier access of the recorded programs/channel surfing – well – not if the DirecTv DVR should up & die. I back up the shows/movie’s I watched to my same security pc when I record them because that happened before. No, it’s not that hard to change. Change occurs everyday – unless your child likes the movie “Groundhog Day” and as you know – kids will watch the same movie over & over – till your going crazy – nuts – close your eyes and wake up in the movie! Then ask you for something different for dinner – after you made the same thing they love. Lol – kids = don’t have’em! Too late? Well, save some money and make a good choice if you can.

    • Does WPBF 25 have Watch ABC? I called my local station and Hearst Television to ask they had it available, but I haven’t heard really heard an answer yet. But my local station did say they will receive it “sometime this year”. I hope that’s true.

      • At this point, no. When you go to the Watch ABC app, it will ask you to log in when you want to see a Verify to Watch episode and will show you there the providers that are participating at this point. Fingers crossed for you.

  10. I am so frustrated by ABC. I can’t stand having to verify to watch. It’d be one thing if there weren’t commercials, but you’re right, there are boatloads! They aren’t the only ones either. Fox has you wait 8 days before you can watch New Girl, which drives me crazy!

  11. i am most upset with cbs, I ‘watch’ many shows on CBS. However, due to a busy working and living schedule, I dvr most shows and watch them later. cbs is now going to charge a monthly fee to view shows. i will not be held hostage. I now have cable but am being nickeled and dimed to death it seems. Heading to retirement i cannot justify the $210/mo I am now paying. Ridiculous! I am unable to switch to DirectTV because I cannot get adequate reception where i am. I read a lot; NOW I will read even more! LOL

  12. “I have a major philosophical issue with this, as ABC is network television and meant to be free tv.”

    Wrong. You’re confusing content with the method of distribution of content. ABC content is NOT meant to be free, nor is it free. By law, over-the-air broadcasts are free because such broadcasts use the public airwaves. But that does not mean that ABC can’t charge you to watch online broadcasts of the same content that it broadcasts free over the air.

  13. The good news is Directv and Disney have reached an agreement and soon Directv subscribers will be able to access WatchABC.

  14. I just downloaded the app today and I’ve been trying all afternoon to watch an old episode of an ABC show as streaming isn’t available in my area. this may sound stupid, but the instructions instruct me to sign in and I can’t find any place to sign in and I have looked everywhere. can anybody provide me with some direction ? I’m using an Android phone, & I don’t have access to internet or cable at home

    • If it isn’t a verify to watch show – one from the past week – you should be able to watch it. I haven’t encountered a request to sign in via mobile except when attempting to watch one of the more recent shows, and a screen automatically pops up. I wish I had a better answer for you. Good luck!

  15. Bill Berry says:

    It is all about the advertisements and the commercials many, many networks have us watch. Anybody who has been following the many lawsuits that were launched against Dish Network and their latest DVR called the “Hopper” know that many owners can simply skip right through those commercials and it is why this is a big deal to them. I too am a cable/satellite ex-owner and stream everything I watch. I do believe it is only a matter of time before we too will be made to pay whether like Dish’s new Sling TV or via a-la-carte. There was a day when satellite TV was free to big dish owners and that is no longer the case with high power DBS like Dish and DirecTV. I simply think one way or the other we’re going to be made to pay like what CBS has recently has done similar to the Hulu model. One day it won’t be free unless you have some tech knowledge and opt for Kodi formerly XBMC.

  16. The key to watching television now is to move away from channel surfing. We have been brought up to mindlessly keep changing the channel until we find something that catches our eye. Once I became MINDFUL of what I wanted to see, it was easy to find it and watch as many episodes of that show for as long as I wanted. There are so many great series out there that I’ve never seen – Dexter, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, etc. I can always start watching a new show any time and not have to be a hostage to ABC, NBC or any of the other pirates out there. So even though Scandal is a great show, they’ve lost me on a weekly basis. Thanks to the magic of Netflix or a number of other internet fixes, I can watch it in the future if I choose. I’m no longer a slave to their nonsense. Life is good.

    • Good news if you are a Directv subscriber, the Watch family of apps; ABC, ABC Family, Disney, Disney Jr, Disney XD, ESPN are now supported by Directv. More streaming options on computers and mobile devices.

  17. There is over 4000 5000 6000 of people that are watching abc family shows on demand dvr Netflixs and online abc family is not fixing their raitings on their programing shows their are numerous of people that are really upset at tom ascheim because he’s not looking into how many people are watching abc family shows on On Demand DVR Netflixs and online

  18. My problem with this new philosophy is three fold, aside the points you already pointed out:

    1) If I did want to watch the shows live and I missed a show, I then get stuck and can’t catch up. My favorite show is OUAT and I feel like you miss a lot if you watch them out of order. Sundays I have family time with my in-laws out of town. Sometimes we are home by the time the show runs, most the time we are not. I have sat down a few times thinking oh, I can watch OUAT and then I realize that I am a week behind, so I turn it off so I don’t get spoilers. I am not planning my life around this show, so I won’t try to make it home early because frankly me having a life is more important than a serialized drama. But it would be nice if I had the ability to catch up with these shows before the next one airs in case I am at home when it airs and I want to watch it.

    2) Today I was watching a show on CBS (good thing it wasn’t ABC) and a special report broke in for near 90 minutes because of tornado warnings in the area. I am glad they broke in because that is emergency information we need. However, by the time the tornado information went off the air, the show I was watching was long over. Luckily, I can watch it online tomorrow. But what if it was ABC? Lets say I did sit down and watch the show on a regular basis with me cutting the cable cord. Well now I am stuck constantly being a week behind because I want to watch the show in order and can’t get back to watching it live. It kind of seems like they are shooting themselves in the foot there.

    3) These channels are supposed to be free broadcast channels, as you mentioned. With the change to the digital antennas, I can no longer pick up NBC. I would love to watch “The Voice” when it airs and be part of the voting process, but sadly I can’t because I can’t pick up this station no matter what I do. I also live in the middle of the city, not in the middle of the country, so it is not a matter of living supposedly out of range. I can watch NBC the next day and there are days when I don’t have work in the morning that I will watch it and still catch the end of the voting period, but those are rare. But if it was ABC, I wouldn’t be able to even do that. If it was a show like “The Voice” where the results are posted online after they air for eliminations, why would I invest myself in a new artist that I know will get eliminated at the beginning of the episode. This could be said of any reality show. You would push away a part of your demographic because my rabbit ears for my TV just happens to not pick up a signal that I was able to receive prior to the digital switch.

  19. If your are not a cable subscriber just boycott TV channels Like ABC, this is the only way that public TV will be free again.

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