Disney offers TV shows for free on Web

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The Independent Online

And yesterday, Mr Iger shook the media world again by announcing that all of Disney's blockbuster television shows are to be made available on its websites - for free.

Rivals are terrified. For generations, broadcasters have made their money from developing "must-see" shows and charging vast sums to advertise during the breaks. Now the industry faces the biggest threats and the most bewildering strategic choices as a result of this proliferation of new ways to access television content.

Disney will roll out new "theatres" on the websites of its main US television channels - ABC, the Disney Channel and Soapnet - and viewers will be able to watch current and archived episodes.

The service will launch on Soapnet within a week, the company said, with the Disney Channel offering five shows online from next month. The scheme is pitched as a "two-month experiment".

"It's a learning opportunity, about recognising that none of us can live in a world of just one business model," Disney television's co-chairwoman, Anne Sweeney, said.

A technological breakthrough means online viewers will have to sit through the advertisements but, while that offers some protection for advertising revenues, media industry observers said it was unclear what might happen to viewing figures for the show premieres on network television.

Even more important, it is unclear whether Disney could ever again earn money from international syndication if it is making shows available worldwide on the Web.

Disney said yesterday that internet television offered the hope of creating "communities" of fans of particular television programmes, whose loyalty is strengthened through extra features available online and by chatrooms. Access to these communities could be very valuable to advertisers.

Of major US television networks, only CBS is inching down the road of internet distribution behind Disney. It is offering episodes of Survivor on its website for 99 cents.