Walt Disney Co.'s ABC Television will offer "Desperate Housewives," "Lost" and other programming for free on the Internet, in a move to expand viewership as networks fight to maintain primetime audiences.
In a two-month trial run, beginning in May, viewers will be able to download shows on ABC.com on the day after they are first broadcast. "Commander in Chief," along with the entire current season of "Alias," will also be available.
ABC already sells digital downloads of its most-popular shows for iPods and other portable video appliances. Other networks have also been experimenting with video-on-demand formats to supplement their TV broadcasts.
In the move today, Disney also announced the April 17 launch of a high-speed Internet channel for soap opera fans, called Soapnetic, to Verizon Communications Corp.'s Internet services.
"These two announcements represent the next steps in our comprehensive, digital media multiplatform business initiative," said Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television Group, in a statement this morning.
"In the future, consumers will rely more and more on strong brands to help them navigate the digital world, and we have some of the strongest brands in entertainment. Our digital media efforts will help us strengthen our connection with our consumers. Stay tuned. … Because this is just the beginning."
As episodes of "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" become available, they'll be archived, so that a bank of episodes will be available.
When viewers download ABC shows, they'll be able to pause and move between "chapters" in an episode but will not be able to skip ads that are technically embedded in the downloads.
New technology will be aimed at preventing viewers from fast-forwarding through commercials. Advertisers supporting this new format include AT&T Inc., Ford Motor Co., Procter & Gamble Co., Toyota Motor Corp., and Unilever PLC, among others.
Previously, the Disney-ABC Television Group had announced that full episodes of original series from the Disney Channel and Jetix would be available for viewing online later this spring.
Under that program, kids would be able to log on to DisneyChannel.com and Jetix.tv and stream full-length episodes of the hit series "That's So Raven," "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody," "Kim Possible," "Power Rangers" and "Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!" among others, free and on-demand.
Shows such as "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" will be available on the Web the morning after they air, and will be archived so viewers can eventually watch an entire season of shows from outlets that include ABC and the Disney Channel.
Disney is the parent company of ABC News and ABCNEWS.com.