NBC announced it will soon be offering free downloads of its popular programming, the latest in a string of moves regarding the network's online strategy, reports The New York Times and MediaBuyerPlanner.
Dubbed NBC Direct, the service will disseminate ad-embedded shows, like Heroes and Bionic Woman, free of charge on NBC.com. The eager need only wait a week after the initial broadcast of a given episode. Ads will be embedded within the downloads.
The service rolls out in beta this October, and is expected to formally debut in November. By year's end, an updated version will allow users to move files to a portable viewing device, or to watch them on a Mac, according to MediaBuyerPlanner.
NBC Direct's free downloads may adversely compete with other outlets proffering the same shows online. While the list of distributors no longer includes Apple's iTunes, the network recently began selling ad-free episodes and seasons via Amazon TV. It may also affect the success of Hulu, the joint venture between NBC and News Corp. Hulu is positioned as a high-quality hub for viewing shows and movies from both companies.
NBC admitted the free offering is merely a step toward having consumers pay for the shows directly: Shows available for download expire after seven days, and thereafter will likely be wrapped in the Windows Media DRM protective coating.
By mid-'08, the service will model iTunes, with customers paying NBC directly for episodes.
"We did this to eliminate the middleman," asserted President Jeff Gaspin of the company's digital division.