NBC to offer free content downloads briefly after shows air

It’s a small step forward, but hopefully this is the beginning of something good – NBC will offer some of its programming for free download the night of broadcast with viewing possible for up to a week after each show airs.

NBC’s move comes as companies throughout the television business search for new economic models in the face of enormous changes in the business. Networks continue to lose audience share, and viewers – especially many of the highly prized viewers under 30 years old – are increasingly demanding control of their program choices, insisting on being able to watch shows when, where and how they want.

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Jeff Gaspin, the president of the NBC Universal Television Group, said, “The shift from programmer to consumer controlling program choices is the biggest change in the media business in the past 25 or 30 years.”

That comment is the biggest challenge facing the content producing industries right now. As technologies have improved for capturing, storing, time- and place-shifting, copying, and working with this content (i.e. music and television programs), the producers of the content have lost so much of the control over how this content is used. So many big-wigs in the companies affected by this fear it and have resorted to tactics like legislating loss of consumer rights (I’m thinking of you, DMCA) rather than trying to find ways to make consumer choice work to the industry’s advantage.

How this technology will work is, of course, paramount to the success of the endeavor. The initial limitations seem a bit asinine, but I suppose that’s to be expected of companies who fear where they are going.

The programs will initially be downloadable only to PCs with the Windows operating system, but NBC said it planned to make the service available to Mac computers and iPods later.

In a second phase of the NBC rollout, customers would pay a fee for downloads of episodes that they would then own and which would be transferable to other devices. NBC hopes to offer this service by mid-2008, depending on how quickly the company can put in place the secure software necessary to allow payment by credit card.

As a sometimes Linux user, I’m a bit bummed that no apparent effort is forthcoming on Linux support, but I expect the Linux community will find ways to resolve this on their own. I don’t expect the use restrictions to last very long, as there are many talented individuals committed to cracking this sort of thing. But hopefully the impact of this will be viewed by NBC executives as minor enough to move forward with the implementation. I know I personally would gladly pay a small fee for digital access to the shows I watch. I want to support the companies who produce the shows I enjoy rather than downloading them from torrent sites, but the companies behind the programs seem to think $3 or even $5 for a show is reasonable, and I’m not willing to pay that just to watch the show on a 2 inch screen on my MP3 player or my phone. So they get my money when the DVDs come out, and until then I just download the captured video from others who make this content available online.

[tags]NBC, Downloadable television programs, Digital distribution[/tags]