NBC to offer free show downloads
THEY DID IT: Heroes and other NBC shows will be available online from November. -- PHOTO: NBC
NEW YORK - NBC Universal said on Wednesday that it would soon permit consumers to download many of its most popular programmes free to personal computers and other devices for one week immediately after their broadcasts.
The service, which is set to start in November after a test period next month, comes less than three weeks after NBC Universal said it was pulling its programmes out of the highly successful iTunes service of Apple Inc.
That partnership fell apart because of a dispute over Apple's iTunes pricing policies and what NBC executives said were concerns about lack of piracy protection.
The network's move comes as companies throughout the television business search for new economic models in the face of enormous changes in the business.
Networks continue to lose audience share, and viewers - especially many of the highly prized ones under 30 years old - are increasingly demanding control of their programme choices, insisting on being able to watch shows when, where and how they want.
At the same time, viewers are finding more ways, like using TiVo machines, to avoid watching the commercials that have long provided the bulk of television revenue.
NBC makes many of its popular shows available online in streaming media, which means that fans can watch episodes on their computers.
Under its new service, called NBC Direct, consumers will be able to download, for no fee, programmes such as Heroes, The Office and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno on the night that they are broadcast and keep them for seven days. They would also be able to subscribe to shows, guaranteeing delivery each week.
The files would contain commercials that viewers would not be able to skip through. And they would not be transferable to a disk or to another computer.
The files would degrade after the seven- day period and be unwatchable. 'Kind of like Mission: Impossible, only I don't think there would be any explosion and smoke,' said Mr Jeff Gaspin, president of the NBC Universal Television Group.
The programmes will initially be downloadable only to PCs with the Windows operating system, but NBC said it planned to make the service available to Mac computers and iPods later.
In a second phase of the NBC rollout, customers would pay a fee for downloads of episodes that they would then own and which would be transferable to other devices.
NBC hopes to offer this service by the middle of next year, depending on how quickly the company can put in place the secure software necessary to allow payment by credit card.
The latter system is already available through iTunes.