By Ronald Grover
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Disney's ABC network will become the first broadcast network to stream its shows live online through an ongoing service, starting with viewers of its TV stations in New York and Philadelphia on May 14 and expanding to its other stations by the end of the summer.
To promote its WATCH ABC service, through the end of June Disney is allowing all viewers of its WABC station in New York and WPVI station in Philadelphia to watch live ABC programs online or on mobile devices by downloading the WATCH ABC app, Disney said in a statement.
The app will initially allow users to be able to watch the service on Apple's iPad and iPhone and on the Kindle Fire device, and later this summer on Samsung Galaxy devices.
Other networks are expected to follow Disney, as traditional broadcasters scramble to keep viewers watching its programs instead of drifting off to Netflix and other online services.
In April, CBS made an investment in Syncbak, a technology company that works with local TV stations to stream programming to consumers over the Web.
Starting on July 1, Disney will only provide its WATCH ABC service to subscribers of cable, satellite and other TV subscription services that have agreements with ABC to offer the service to their subscribers in New York and Philadelphia. Subscribers must provide an authentication code to be granted access to the shows.
Later this summer, Disney said it will expand use of its WATCH ABC service to authenticated subscribers that receive its TV stations in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Raleigh-Durham and Fresno, California.
The company signed an agreement with Hearst Television to offer the service as well to Hearst's 13 ABC affiliates, including Boston, Pittsburgh and Kansas City. The stations will offer the service "in the coming months," the two companies said.
Users of WATCH ABC will be able to access programs on demand as well as watch live programs, Disney said.
Disney already offers similar services to subscribers of three of its Disney Channel outlets - WATCH Disney Channel, WATCH Disney XD and WATCH Disney Junior - and through its WATCH ESPN service for several of the sports channel outlets.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)