Disney’s free online TV in ad-skipping battle

In a move that could reverse the fortunes of TV advertising, Walt Disney is moving to thwart ad-skipping by making popular programming available free any time on the web.

The content, which can itself be paused, rewound and fast-forwarded, will include ad breaks that viewers can not skip.

Ten advertisers are already said to have committed to the new initiative, which challenges the onslaught of TiVo video recorders, which allow viewers to fast-forward through commercial breaks.

Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Universal Pictures and Ford are thought to be among those keen to trial the scheme.

A revamped ABC website will from the end of this month enable viewers with broadband connections to watch free episodes on their computers of hit programmess such as 'Desperate Housewives' and 'Lost', the morning after they air on TV.

Disney's Soapnet cable channel will offer programmes free on its Soapnetic website on April 17, and Disney Channel and ABC Family versions are also in the works.

Ad breaks will not follow the traditional format. Instead of five interludes in an hour's episode, three breaks only will be screened, but each will last at least one minute and all will be from the same advertiser.

The strategy is expected to be formally outlined by Disney-ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney later today. Sweeney is credited with turning around Disney's television unit by streamlining operations, so enabling the creation of monster hits such as 'Desperate Housewives' and 'Lost', which are expected to bring in £0.6bn in syndication revenue over the next five years.

The second series of 'Lost' is set to begin airing on Channel 4 shortly.

Last November, Time Warner's AOL announced a plan to launch a free Internet television service, In2TV, supported by advertising. At the same time, General Electric's NBC and Viacom-owned CBS said they would offer downloads of primetime shows such as 'Law & Order', 'The Office' and 'Survivor' for 99 cents a throw.

Disney was the first in the US to provide broadcast and cable shows for download on iPods last autumn -- without ads and for a $1.99 charge.

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