Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Why ABC’s iPad App Is Free, but ABC Shows on Hulu’s App-to-Be Won’t Be

One of the benefits of the upcoming Hulu subscription service: The ability of users to watch shows from NBC, Fox and ABC on the iPad. But iPad users can already watch ABC shows on the iPad via the network’s free app. What gives?

That’s the question a lot of people in the media industry have asked since the Disney (DIS) unit launched its app in April. The usual response, after a shrug–perhaps Disney CEO Bob Iger wanted to do something nice for Apple’s (AAPL) Steve Jobs, who happens to be the biggest single owner of Disney shares.

And that may well be the case. But I’ve since heard a slightly more detailed justification for the free app. Bear with me:

The shows offered by the ABC app are the same ones ABC offers up for free on its Web site. Which means, because of the terms of ABC’s deal with Hulu, that those same shows are available for free on Hulu.

But the Hulu subscription service will feature ABC shows that aren’t available anywhere online for free. So you’ll see different shows on ABC’s free app than on Hulu’s paid offering. Which means they aren’t really competitive at all.

Got it?

Admittedly, that logic will track, if you’re paying attention. And if you follow the TV and movie industry’s use of “windows” and the disruptive threat digital media pose to Hollywood, it won’t sound completely foreign.

And perhaps the first several million iPad buyers will be savvier than most TV watchers. But for most people, it’s going to remain a head-scratcher: Why do I get to watch some episodes of “Lost” for free on this app, but it costs $10 a month to watch other episodes of the same show on that app?

And if anyone asks you that question, feel free to mention this post. It’s free, after all.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik