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ABC brings live TV to iOS app: can networks cut Aereo off at the pass?

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Watch ABC stock 2040
Watch ABC stock 2040

As expected, ABC today brought live TV streaming to its iOS app for users in New York City and Philadelphia. The new functionality has been delivered in an update to ABC's existing app (now renamed Watch ABC). Like The New York Times reported, live programming is available only to users who pay for a monthly TV subscription at home. Thankfully that restriction isn't being enforced just yet: ABC is letting anyone in NYC and Philadelphia tune into live content through June 30th. After that, you'll need to verify eligibility by offering up your cable account credentials — not unlike HBO Go. So far, supported providers include Comcast, Cablevision, Cox, Charter, and AT&T's U-verse. This summer, residents in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Boston, and other cities will gain access to Watch ABC.

Live local content in HD

At its core, Watch ABC largely carries over features from the "old" app: namely, you can watch many of the network's top shows on demand. The only geolocation requirement for on-demand content is that you reside somewhere in the US. But a new "Live" tab at the bottom is where you'll head for live programming. Watch ABC will determine a user's location before presenting two options: Watch Live and View Live Schedule. If the implementation here sounds bare bones, that's because it is. After hitting play, the live stream takes a minute or so to buffer to optimal quality. At its best, the feed being beamed to our iPhone 5 looked fairly sharp and detailed; the source is almost certainly HD. Closed captioning support is also available for those who need it.

Opening up the schedule lets you see what's ahead for the day. There's an episode title underneath each show, but no summaries or expanded cast information. You can't set reminders to be prompted when your favorite shows are starting, and ABC has no answer for Aereo's remote DVR functionality (which automatically records shows for you to watch later). To be fair, ABC isn't promising any of those features yet, and if you're a fan of ABC's primetime lineup and live in New York City or Philadelphia, there's no reason to ignore this update. The convenience of watching live TV anywhere is very real. But if networks are hoping to topple Aereo with live streaming solutions of their own, they'll need to do better than this — and include more viewers, too. It won't be alone in that effort: NBC announced today that it aims to have its own TV Everywhere offering in place by mid-2014.