ABC, the network that shows Lost
and Desperate Housewives
, is to make shows available to download free this year.
The downloads will be interspersed with advertising, meaning that viewers of the downloads will get 15 minutes of content interspersed with 5 minute ad-breaks, as they currently get on the TV.
ABC is hoping it will make enough money from the advertising to make the free downloading of content a sustainable business model.
Currently, ABC sells its shows through the iTunes Music Store for $1.99 a time. ABC is owned by Disney, and Disney's largest individual shareholder is Steve Jobs of Apple. We might assume that the ABC announcement is a trial of free downloads that could bring added functionality to the iTunes store. If you went onto the store and saw an episode for $1.99 to download or a free one, which would you get?
Of course, the answer is that you might go and get the hi-def Torrent release without ads for free, but that might or might not be illegal, depending on your interpretation of US and international law.
There are plenty of questions left unanswered by the announcement. Will international viewers have access to the downloads? We suspect not, since that would scupper ABC's deals with international broadcast networks. Will the shows be in HD? We suspect not, since that would cost an enormous amount in bandwidth and server infrastructure. Will you be able to transfer the episodes to portable players, and will they be DRM'd? We're not sure, but we certainly hope so. How long will the gap be between TV showing and download availability? The iTunes releases appear the next morning, and we'd expect similar from this service.
Would you go for free, legal downloads of Lost
? Let us know what you reckon over in the News Forum.