ABC launching 24 hour digital news channel for Apple TV

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ABC's new Apple TV app. (Courtesy)
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Alex Weprin

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ABC News is launching a dedicated video app for the Apple TV streaming media hub, effectively creating a 24 hour video news channel for the device, which hooks up to TV sets and provides access to iTunes, Netflix and other video services.

The app, which is available starting today, will feature a 24 hour live video feed, which will be filled with roughly eight hours of live video, segments pulled from ABC News TV shows, and original segments shot for the service or ABC digital platforms. Even when there isn’t live rolling coverage, the app will continue to be updated with segments from ABC News programming, as well as live video feeds from events like speeches or a shot of earth from the International Space Station.

“We are taking the best of everything, so if you want to have that more traditional experience, where you sit and watch something, we can do that, but we want to enhance that with all of these other pieces,” says Joe Ruffolo, senior V.P. of ABC News digital. “So if you want to switch to just Iraq coverage, you can go to just Iraq, if you want to hear about the World Cup you can do that, if you want just entertainment news, you can have that experience as well.”

The effort is something of a backdoor cable news channel, albeit on a much smaller scale. While ABC is a part-owner of the 24-hour news channel Fusion, it does not have a dedicated, ABC-branded news channel to throw to after news coverage on the network concludes. The Apple TV app gives it another option to reach viewers who watch its coverage on TV, and are looking to follow it even when “Good Morning America” or “Nightline” is over.

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The live feeds are an integral part of that strategy. In addition to the obvious uses, like press conferences and speeches, the network will stream things like a camera focused on puffins living on an island, as well as the aforementioned space station feed. Going forward the network may offer multiple camera angles of live events, allowing viewers to choose the angle from which they are watching it.

“We have just been really amazed with how much people want live video content, 24 hours a day,” says Doug Vance, V.P. of product development for ABC News digital. “We think this is a device that fills that nights and weekends gap really nicely. That is why you can see live is front and center here [in the Apple TV app] , and that is why we have this 24 hour stream as well.”

“It is for people that really want to control their news, and this is a place where people can get that,” Ruffolo added.

ABC also expects to lean on its existing talent people to contribute. Ruffolo noted that ABC chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz did a live hit for the service in between hits for television.

There is also a “local” tab, that will be populated with content from ABC’s owned and operated stations, as well as affiliates. At launch nine stations are on board, in most of the top markets. Others are expected to be added over time.

CBS News is developing a 24-hour digital video news channel of its own, though it is still in the early stages of development. It also isn’t clear where that digital news channel would live.

On Apple TV, there are already apps for Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and Sky News, among others, but ABC marks the biggest bet by far from a U.S. TV news outlet, at least in terms of live coverage and original content.

Apple does not have an “open” developer platform on Apple TV, unlike its system for iPhone or iPad. Rather, the company gets to pick and choose the partners it works with for the platform, slowly adding them over time. HBO, History and PBS are among the other channels with Apple TV apps.

Other channels, like CNN and Fox News, are available for streaming online, but they require viewers "authenticate" that they are pay-TV subscribers.

The ABC News app will not require authentication, making it free for everyone, whether they pay for TV or not. The separate, pre-existing Watch ABC app, which has full episodes of ABC News and ABC entertainment shows, does require authentication.

ABC plans to start marketing the new app this week, making sure that viewers of ABC News TV shows are aware of its existence. If the network breaks into programming with a news report, it could also “throw” viewers to the app to continue watching rolling coverage, even if TV coverage returns to its regular schedule.

ABC also plans to bring similar apps and experiences to other platforms and devices.

“Our goal is to definitely continue to try and expand across these over the top devices, as well as these smart devices, this year and next year,” Ruffolo says. “For us, this is what we love to do, we get to figure out how people will be viewing these etchings across these different devices.”