In a daring initiative the Walt Disney Company, parent of US network TV giant ABC, is set to post much of the latter's most recent content for free viewing via the web.

The move marks a sea-change in American television - the first time a TV company has offered consumers primetime viewing online, without restriction and for free.

No, despite doubts in some quarters, Disney's razorblade commercial judgement has not moseyed-off into the sunset along with former chairman/ceo Michael Eisner.

The project's underlying rationale has convinced such hardnut advertisers as Ford Motor Company, Procter & Gamble, Universal Pictures and Unilever, along with six other big names, to sign-up to the venture.

ABC's online episodes, along with full commercial breaks, can be paused, rewound and fast-forwarded just as on a DVR. Unlike a DVR, however, the commercials cannot be bypassed.

Disney executives believe they now have a way of transmuting web TV into a profit-generating business - reflecting a striking turnaround at ABC, two years ago a no-hoper languishing fourth among the US big four networks.

Within days of replacing Eisner, new Disney ceo Robert Iger, an unexpected evangelist for digital media, grouped all the company's TV units under a single banner and a new management team - the Disney-ABC Television Group. Led by president Anne Sweeney , the new entity was the first to offer both broadcast and cable shows for download on iPods.

Says Sweeny of that deal - and the latest web TV initiative: "It would have required excruciating coordination before the merger. When you take down the walls and everybody on the team is living in the same world, things can happen quickly."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff