COMMENTS: ABC Cuts Off Its Long Tail

In a sudden change in its online policy, ABC has cut off access to half of its World News archive. Paul Slavin, vice president of digital media, made the announcement Thursday. As of Saturday, more than 800 ABC World News videostreams dating back to last November in the Tyndall Report database are not accessible--more than 26 hours of news programing. Wherever you see "subscription required" next to a link, that link has been broken by ABC. The break may not be permanent. ABC spokeswoman Natalia Labenskyj told Tyndall Report: "We are working on making more of that material available to all users."

Regular Tyndall Report readers know that ABC World News has always had a bifurcated method for offering its stories to online viewers. Unlike CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News, which offer all their newscast content free with advertising support, ABC has posted half of its stories free with ads, the other half behind a subscription wall. For the excellent value of about 80c each week, subscribers used to get to see about half of ABC's nightly content without the inconvenience of sitting through commercials. Used to.

The reason for the split was that ABC News' online business model was divided. Partly the network streams news directly to its own audience: and, in addition to World News broadcast stories that Tyndall Report links to, it also produces a standalone Webcast. Partly it provides content as an online video wire service to broadband and wireless portals. The value of the latter content is undergirded by its exclusivity--thus ABC's does not compete with its own corporate customers, it calls them "partner services," by offering the material it feeds to them simultaneously on its own site for free. That latter material was the content that used to be made available to its individual subscribers.

At a time when most online sources of journalism are lowering barriers, expanding content, removing subscription fees--think The New York Times' Select, AOL, even, perhaps, the Wall Street Journal under Rupert Murdoch--ABC is moving in the opposite direction. It has not only decided to discontinue its individual subscriber service going forward, but also retroactively it has blocked access to its once-linkable archive.

ABC's announcement can be found here. So far, published objections in its comments sections have come from ex-patriates, who are unable to avail themselves of the option of continuing to get the service at second hand from ABC's corporate customers. Slavin recommends those partners: "Thank you for your support and we hope you continue to enjoy the great programming ABC News Now has to offer." Writes one expatriate: "I am truly furious at your lack of consideration for European subscribers." Another: "I am truly shocked and angry at the lack of consideration and seriousness towards the rest of the world."

In New York City, the Tyndall Report subscribes to one of these "partner services," Verizon's News Center. We logged in to its ABC World News channel looking for the content from Friday that would, until then, have been available under ABC's subscriber service. Not even close. Its content had not been updated since November 16th. As soon as we work out a way to collect the links for subscriber-only stories from World News, we will post them in our daily Picks and Rundown grids so "partner services" subscribers will be able to go straight to those videostreams.

As television news negotiates the minefield of switching its content from broadcasting as newscasts to a multi-platform online world of streamable, addressable video, ABC World News has made two retrograde steps. It has placed control of half of its nightly content in the hands of third party portals instead of its own viewers. And it has treated half of its own archive as unsearchable and valueless by destroying links to past content--cutting off its own, potentially valuable, long tail.


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