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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.