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If you’re a broadcast network, how do you respond to Aereo streaming all of your live programming over the Web? You can ignore the hole that Aereo is filling and fight the company in court, or you can recognize that live TV streaming is what consumers want and give it to them. ABC plans on doing just that, adding a “Live” button to its ABC app for iOS that lets users stream TV from their local ABC affiliate.

Judge Judy, live on your iPhone or iPad? It'll be possible, thanks to the ABC app's new "Live" feature.
Judge Judy, live on your iPhone or iPad? It’ll be possible, thanks to the ABC app’s new “Live” feature.

This is a first for major TV broadcast companies, but it isn’t the first time ABC has blazed a digital trail in this space — the company was one of the first to allow full-episode streaming from its website and one of the first to launch mobile streaming apps. ABC already lets users stream live from the Disney Channel and ESPN with those respective apps, but up until this point, only previously-aired content was available through the ABC app.

Unfortunately, the Disney and ESPN apps require a cable subscription to work, and so will the “Live” portion of the ABC app. This may disappoint ABC viewers who hope to cut the cord and will still make Aereo a viable alternative for those who don’t have or want a cable TV subscription.

While it’s understandable that ABC might want to protect cable providers when streaming networks like Disney and ESPN, ABC is broadcast for free over the air by local affiliates. Why shut cable-less users out from live TV they could technically watch without needing cable? It’s all part of the delicate dance media companies and cable providers are engaged in.

If ABC were to offer live content for free over the Web, it could hurt cable subscription numbers. Customers could cancel and cable companies could threaten to drop ABC and, potentially, all Disney-owned channels from their lineups. That means ABC, ABC Family, Disney, ESPN, ESPN 2 and so on. Of course, no cable company in its right mind would drop those channels — ABC has a lot of leverage, in that regard. But maintaining a healthy relationship with providers means that source of revenue stays intact.

The new “Live” feature of the ABC app is set to debut first in New York City and Philadelphia this week, and will move on to other markets with Hearst Television-owned ABC affiliates later this year. There’s no word on ABC’s progress with its other 200+ affiliates, but the talks are happening.

We’ll be sure to update you with any new information about the ABC app’s “Live” feature. Till then, stay tuned.

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