NBC.com to deliver free, ad supported shows; ABC pairs up with AOL to do same

NBC launched NBC Direct in a move to deliver its shows free and ad-supported through NBC.com.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

NBC launched NBC Direct in a move to deliver its shows free and ad-supported through NBC.com. ABC is pairing with AOL to distribute its shows--and the ads that go with them--for free.

It's a distribution land grab. For NBC, the initial reaction from most observers was "Huh?" What about Hulu, that joint venture between News Corp. and NBC?

Who cares? If you are a television giant the game right now is throwing multiple business models out there and seeing what sticks. Eyeballs matter. And actually having someone see ads matters even more. As a user, I don't care how I get my shows. I'll definitely try NBC Direct to watch a show or two on the train. I don't need to "own" a show by downloading one on iTunes. I just want to see it--once.

That's why all of this experimentation from the television studios is a good thing--and why these Hollywood types don't want to be locked in with any one platform. Sure, there are hangups like DRM, but overall I applaud the moxie. NBC is already cannibalizing Hulu. ABC is cracking the toughest nut in broadcasting--inserting local ads online. Using geotargeting AOL plans to drop in a local ad to its Web broadcasts.

Let's look at the two moves from ABC and NBC:

According to The Wall Street Journal, ABC is making a full version of its primetime shows available on AOL for free. ABC already plans to do this on its site. Why team up with AOL? Distribution.

ABC's deal will be a few weeks ahead of Hulu. CBS already has a similar deal with AOL. The shows will go online after they air on regular TV. AOL and ABC will share ad revenue.

The most interesting thing in the ABC deal is geotargeting, which will bring affiliates into the loop--a hot issue among TV stations.

As for the NBC plan, there are a few hangups that may annoy users. The good news: You can download a full show on your desktop (Windows only for now). You can preselect the shows you want downloaded to keep tabs of your favorites. The bad news: The episode will work for one week and then expire. And there's a player to download--although it appears it'll only play NBC shows.

NBC plans to roll out NBC Direct to Macs and portable devices also. Future enhancements will utilize a peer to peer distribution peer. Never thought I'd write P2P and NBC in the same sentence.

Although there are tradeoffs with the NBC Direct model the average bear may not care. After all, the price is right.

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