NBC Letting Consumers Download Shows Free-of-Charge

NBC is launching NBC Direct, an ad-supported service that will allow users to download full-length episodes of NBC shows straight to their desktops.

The service, set to begin beta-testing in October, will allow viewers to keep the shows for one week before their licenses expire and the videos are no longer useable. The downloadable player will feature technology that prevents it from playing stolen or copyrighted material.

Taking a cue from TiVo, users will be given a subscription option, which will automatically download new episodes of shows they want to see when they become available.

Further down the line, NBC expects to expand its platform functionality and allow DRM-protected (digital rights management) versions of the shows to be ported to Macs or portable devices such as iPods. In addition, distribution of high-resolution programs may be made available via a closed peer-to-peer network.

NBC Direct is the first of a series of moves the network will make to give viewers multiple platforms and viewing options for its programming. The move also gives advertisers -- which are consistently trying to reach the young, tech-savvy consumer -- a new platform.

NBC recently declined to renew its contract with Apple iTunes, the largest distributor of downloadable video content. If users are eventually able to port the downloaded shows to their iPods or other portable devices, NBC Direct could pose a serious threat to Apple's content empire, at least on the television front. NBC and News Corp. are also launching their broadband-video site, Hulu, later this year. Hulu will stream full-length episodes of NBC programming.

"With the creation of this new service, we are acknowledging that now, more than ever, viewers want to be in control of how, when and where they consumer their favorite entertainment," said Vivi Zigler, executive vice president of NBC Digital Entertainment. "Not only does this feature give them more control, but it also gives them a higher quality video experience."

The first shows to be made available on the service will be Heroes, The Office, Life, Bionic Woman, 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.