Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Free TV on the iPad: Lots of “Lost,” but No “CSI,” “Simpsons” or “30 Rock”

Want to watch free TV shows on your iPad? Hope you like ABC’s programs.

The network is the only one of the four broadcasters offering much programming on Apple’s device at launch Saturday. As previously reported, the Disney (DIS) unit is offering about 20 of its shows, including “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” for free via a new app.

But that’s about it. Come Saturday, CBS (CBS) will only be streaming full episodes of “Survivor” at its iPad-friendly site. And News Corp.’s (NWS) Fox and GE’s (GE) NBC aren’t streaming any full-length shows at all. If you want to watch “CSI,” “The Simpsons” or “30 Rock” on your Web browser this weekend, you’ll need to use something other than an iPad.

CBS says it will offer more shows over time, but NBC and Fox aren’t even promising that. When the Hulu app arrives, those two networks’ shows will be available there, but under current plans, they’ll be available only to paying subscribers.

The holdouts’ logic is that the iPad is a mobile device. And while the networks are basically okay with streaming their stuff for free on the Web, they think that mobile is a different ballgame, and one they can charge for (though even that’s confusing — NBC does stream full-length shows for free to the iPhone, but won’t do the same for the iPad).

But if that’s the reasoning, why is ABC, which joined up with Hulu a year ago, putting up its stuff for free on the iPad? The fact that Apple (AAPL) boss Steve Jobs is Disney’s largest single shareholder can’t be the only reason.

ABC may be able to thread the needle here because it is only making its shows available via Wi-Fi streaming, not over AT&T’s (T) network. But that kind of “windowing” is going to seem awfully arbitrary to most casual users, and those are the ones both Apple and the networks are supposed to be targeting here. So something’s going to have to give. Stay tuned.

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