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VH1 unrolls video app with its TLC biopic outside pay gate

Viacom's video-on-demand app revamp marches on to VH1, and to start, it will put its original movie about TLC outside the blocker that requires a pay-TV subscription to watch.

VH1's app

Like its regular programming, VH1 is going retro to go forward.

The Viacom channel launched a VH1 app for iPhone and iPad on Wednesday, with versions for Android and Windows phones coming. To bolster the rollout, its bringing its biopic about TLC -- the cornerstone of its fall lineup -- to the app for on-demand viewing right after its premiere Monday for anyone, not just people who have a pay-TV subscription.

"It really shows how committed VH1 is to this platform," said Kristin Frank, executive vice president of connected content for Viacom Music and LOGO Group. "To put skin in the game."

Like an MTV app revamp that preceded it, the VH1 app keeps the "second screen" aspects of VH1's preceding app but now turns an iPad or iPhone into a "first screen" too. It upgrades VH1's CoStar app -- with video extras, photos, trivia, and social sharing -- with on-demand streaming of shows on the devices.

Current episodes and full seasons of shows like "Love & Hip Hop," "Basketball Wives," and "Mob Wives" as well as past programs like "Celebrity Rehab," will be available.

But generally, access to full-length episodes is available to people who pay for a TV service package from one of ten distributors, including AT&T U-verse, Cablevision, DIRECTV, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon FiOS. It's the television industry's practice of "TV Everywhere," or the idea that your shows can be accessed from any device at any location.

With advertising laced through the mobile viewing, it gives networks incremental streams of revenue and it's a measure to better compete with online TV upstarts like Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, and -- more recently -- Aereo.

However, public awareness hasn't caught on. A study by Altman Vilandrie last month found that even though all of the major pay-TV providers offer some form of TV Everywhere, only 32 percent of customers said their cable TV subscription included it. It dropped to 24 percent for viewers over 55.

The channel is also creating shorter, original videos just for the app that will serve as a testing ground for wacky ideas or new talent.

It's a similar tack that other channels have made, like Time Warner's HBO GO that combines on-demand video with interactive bonuses for shows like "Game of Thrones."