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ABC is creating dozens of free, digital-only shows it wants you to watch on your phone

Remember webisodes? This is like that, but ABC says it will work this time.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Are you a big fan of ABC’s “Modern Family?”

Then maybe you’ll like “Boondoggle,” a new comedy starring “Modern Family’s” Ty Burrell, where Burrell plays a character called “Ty Burrell.” It’s from ABC, too.

But you can’t watch “Boondoggle” on ABC’s network — you’ve got to watch it online, via ABC’s website or one of its mobile or connected TV apps. It’s one of seven new digital-only shows the network is launching today, with dozens more to come throughout the year.

ABC isn’t the only TV network generating its own digital series right now. But unlike NBC’s Seeso, or the “Star Trek” reboot CBS is going to run on its All Access service, the ABC stuff is free. And it doesn’t require a pay TV subscription, either: ABC figures it can make money on this stuff from ads alone.

All of which sounds a lot like the “webisode” strategies that ABC and other networks have tried in the past — generally because they really didn’t want you watching their TV shows anywhere but on TV, so they were hoping some digital bits and pieces would be enough for the web. Those usually didn’t work.

Now all the networks have made peace, more or less, with the internet. They’ll let you watch all of their “real” shows there, without much hassle.

So why make extra stuff now?

ABC says this time will be different, in part because it’s creating the digital shows using the same resources it uses to create its conventional ones. The other reason: It’s making its shows short — five to seven minutes a pop — with the assumption that you’ll be watching it on your phone.

“We do awesome on mobile with our full-length content. But we feel that for a lot of our viewers, there are pockets of time where short-form makes more sense,” said Karin Gilford, ABC TV’s digital boss.

A couple digital shows tie into ABC’s linear programming, like “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “The Bachelorette.” But most of them don’t have any direct connection to the stuff ABC is already airing.

Some of them have a different approach from a traditional ABC show, too: “You fucked us, Ty Burrell!” is the opening line of the first episode of “Boondoggle” — and the f-bomb isn’t bleeped out. In case you missed it, the line gets repeated a few minutes later.

Meanwhile, if you like traditional, full-length ABC shows, the network is giving you more online access to those, too: It is loading up its site and apps with full seasons of 38 shows it isn’t airing anymore, like “Felicity,” “Ugly Betty” and “Sports Night.” Those are free, too.

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