The Watch ABC App Would Be Great, If It Weren't Hopelessly Crippled

It makes sense for broadcast networks to have livestreaming apps. In fact, it might be the difference between staying on the air and becoming a trivia question in just a few short years. So why are networks like ABC still blowing off their own toes?

Watch ABC is what it sounds like: An app that lets you livestream your ABC affiliate and watch ABC shows on demand. It’s a pretty straightforward app, as these things go, sensibly built and it generally works.

The app is being rolled out to Android phones as of today. The list of “supported” phones is painfully short, but ABC has said any device running Android 4.0.3. or above should be able to run the app. What’s absolutely baffling, and somewhat excruciating, is the limitations on this app in the first place.

To start with, you need a cable subscription. Yes, to watch what ABC gives away for free, over a cellular data network your cable provider has no control over, you still need to give your cable provider money. HBO is one thing; they’re a cable network with no advertising, subscriptions are what keeps them in business. This, on the other hand, is literally just throwing up an obstacle for no reason. The fear, of course, is that this app will enable cord-cutting, you know, because driving your users to Aereo and other services won’t do that just as effectively.

Secondly, it’s not nationwide: Currently you can only use this app in New York, Philadelphia, LA, San Francisco, Raleigh-Durham, Houston, and Fresno. It’s true that local affiliates have some say in what’s being streamed, but it’s hard to see why being able to go to their advertising accounts and say “Hey, guess what, we just jacked up our viewership by a few thousand” doesn’t have some appeal. And of course they’re likely worried about sports competition. But even so, this is a bit ridiculous.

In short, it’s a good idea being crippled by fear and greed. And networks wonder why we’re all just waiting for the shows to hit Netflix.