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Watch ABC App Streams Live TV Programming on iPad

There’s another way television is moving online. For television viewers, the holy grail is the ability to watch live programming from the comfort of their mobile devices. ABC appears to be the first to actually make it happen, but as usual, there’s a catch.  ABC has recently relaunched its ABC Player app as Watch ABC, which now streams live programming on iPad in limited markets. Currently, live streaming of ABC programming is only available in the New York City and Philadelphia areas.

The live stream feature will arrive in an additional 13 Hearst-owned stations over the rest of the year. ABC is working to bring the feature to users in other markets, but that will depend on the willingness of more than 200 local broadcasters to join in on the live streaming.

Viewers will need to establish eligibility by verifying that they have an eligible pay-TV account with a local cable or satellite television company, and that they are within the local viewing area.

ABC may be expanding viewership on its iOS app, but it will be stepping back the availability of its shows through Hulu and ABC.com, limiting access to paying cable and satellite subscribers.

Transmitting television via live stream requires new deals with traditional distributors, like Comcast, DirecTV and Verizon FiOS, and with the owners of ABC’s affiliates. Gaining Hearst’s backing ahead of Tuesday’s upfront was important to ABC because it lent some local support to the app effort.

That ABC now has the technology to stream live television over mobile devices shows that the company is thinking about how its viewers’ habits are changing. ABC was one of the first to offer full episodes to users over its apps. And it has also launched some major social television efforts that take advantage of the “second-screen” trend, in which viewers use their smartphones and tablets while watching live TV to share thoughts with friends or look up information on a show. Besides, ABC is planning to let some viewers watch local broadcasts through their Apple devices.

The Watch ABC app is available free for iPhone and iPad on the App Store. [Direct Link]  The 38.8MB download requires an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad running iOS 5.0 or later.