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Primetime Hit Shows Come to VOD

Following ABC’s deal to download Desperate Housewives into Apple Computer Inc. iPods, Comcast Corp. and CBS and, separately, NBC Universal and DirecTV Inc. Monday announced plans to offer paid 99-cent views of hits like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Law & Order.

Starting in January, Comcast will offer four CBS shows -- CSI, NCIS, Survivor and The Amazing Race -- to its digital-cable customers on-demand for 99 cents per episode within hours after the programs air.

This marks the first time Comcast has budged on the issue of charging subscribers for basic or primetime TV programming on-demand.

And NBC U will offer 99-cent downloads of broadcast-network fare Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, L&O: Criminal Intent, Surface and The Office, plus USA Network’s Monk and Sci Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica, to DirecTV digital-video-recorder customers.

The companies said the CBS programs -- available in seven Comcast markets where CBS owns TV stations -- will be available until the next episodes premiere. After ordering, consumers will have 24 hours in which to watch the programs.

CBS owns TV stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Miami, Pittsburgh, Denver, Baltimore, Salt Lake City and Dallas.

Comcast also said certain systems might make CSI and NCIS available in HD for customers with HD-enabled Comcast digital-cable set-top boxes.

Prior to the March debut of new episodes of Survivor and The Amazing Race, viewers will be able to order the fall-2005 episodes of those programs.

In the NBC-DirecTV deal, the programs will stay on the DVR until the next episode airs.

DirecTV’s “Plus DVR” -- which sports 100 hours of recording capability -- will be available at Best Buy Co. Inc. and Circuit City Stores Inc. this month.

“The key is that the way that people watch television today is changing so quickly that you have to be able to reach as many viewers as possible,” NBC U Television Group president Jeff Zucker said in an interview Monday. “And you’re going to do that through a variety of different platforms. Last week, we announced that you’ll be able to watch Jay Leno on cell phones. Today, we’re making this announcement, and we expect to look at other platforms in the coming days and months.”

Added David Zaslav, president of NBC U Cable: “This is where we’re going to start, but there will be more shows that we make available. It’s a multiyear deal. We’re both going to play with it to see what people like, which shows work in this format.”