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Cable Nets: We Win With Free Podcasts

Nicollette Sheridan and Tony Shalhoub aren’t the only TV stars that can be screened on a video iPod these days. Users can also see comedians Larry David, George Lopez and Bob Newhart on the portable media device — and they don’t have to pay to download them.

While Apple Computer Inc. has inked deals with The Walt Disney Co. and, last week, NBC Universal, enabling $1.99 downloads for episodes of series like Desperate Housewives and Monk to video iPod subscribers, networks such as TV Land and G4 are gaining promotional exposure by offering video clips from some of their original programming for free via podcasts.

Both TV Land and G4’s downloads have already proven to be quite popular among iPod users. TV Land executives said preview clips of its original interview series Sit Down Comedy With David Steinberg, featuring talks with comedians David, Lopez and Newhart, ranked among the most downloaded podcasts last week as measured by Apple — although the retro network could not provide specific figures.

For its part, G4 in November attracted some 750,000 podcast users to clips from such shows as its late-night series Attack of the Show in November, according to network executives.

TV Land/Nick at Nite senior vice president of marketing Rob Pellizzi said the network wanted to build awareness for the Steinberg series, which bows Dec. 14, through the preview clips.

“We’re looking to reach our audiences wherever we can find them and trying to work within the new technologies,” he said of the network’s 25-to-54 target group. “It was compelling to look at the rise of iTunes and podcasting and it turns out that we’re reaching our core.”

G4 jumped in the game a month ago, using video iPod content to not only reach its younger, technology-driven audience with video game reviews from X-Play, but older viewers with irreverent commentaries on breaking news from Attack of the Show, according to vice president of interactive Joshua Krane.

“We know that our audience plays in the short-form, nonlinear world — they download stuff from Bit Torrent, they’re plugged in to what’s going on now,” he said. “This offered us an opportunity to try new things, to take advantage of the new iPod platform and basically get people to subscribe to our content.”

Long term, Pellizzi said TV Land hoped to parlay its video podcast success into a pay-per- play model. “At some point, we’ll look at offering the episodes for sale on iTunes,” he said.

Meanwhile, NBCU is now offering $1.99 episodes from Sci Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica and USA Network’s Monk as part of the deal announced with Apple last week.

The pact also calls for NBCU to offer for purchase episodes from vintage shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Dragnet, Adam-12 and Knight Rider, according to NBCU officials. NBC primetime series Law & Order, The Office and Surface, as well as segments from late-night shows The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and Late Night With Conan O’Brien are also available.

NBCU’s agreement follows the iPod deal inked two months ago by The Walt Disney Co., whose ESPN holding is now considering adding its sports and information programming to a mix that includes ABC’s Lost and Desperate Housewives and Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven.

“We’re looking into it,” ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer said last week at the UBS Warburg LLC’s Global Media Conference.

Mike Farrell contributed to this story.