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DirecTV and iTunes
NBC Universal this morning announced it will launch through satellite operator DirecTV an on-demand service that allows consumers to download prime-time shows commercial free for 99 cents. A few hours later, CBS announced its video-on-demand service through Comcast’s digital cable system.
The CBS-Comcast VOD deal leaves the national commercial spots embedded within the show's programming. Viewers, however, will have full VOD functionality, including the ability to pause and fast-forward the spots. The drama series--"CSI" and "NCIS"--will remain on the VOD server until the next episode airs. The reality series, however, will be available as part of a library format through the duration of the shows' seasons.
The moves follow ABC's deal with Apple that allows viewers to download commercial free the network's prime-time fare for $1.99 onto iTunes for play on an iPod.
Broadcast networks have experimented with on-demand viewing in fits and starts, mostly offering the content for free through major Internet sites. CBS sibling UPN, for example, premiered “Everybody Hates Chris” on Google, and last year NBC aired the pilot of “The Office” on MySpace.com.
NBC's and CBS’s on-demand content costs half as much as ABC’s iTunes content and allows shows to be viewed on a full-screen TV. NBC Universal’s programs are available through DirecTV’s Plus interactive digital video recorder, which DirecTV is beginning to market as it phases out its previous partnership with DVR pioneer TiVo. DirecTV expects the new DVR to hit retailers next week. CBS’s VOD content will be available starting in January to Comcast’s digital cable customers living in markets with a CBS owned-and-operated station.
The deals also follow an announcement last week that four major cable companies -- Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and Brighthouse -- are partnering with cellular provider Sprint Nextel in an effort to combat competition from satellite services and telecom video providers.
DirecTV Plus customers who miss "Law & Order: SVU," for example, can pay 99 cents to watch it on demand. Other shows included in the deal are NBC’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “The Office” and “Surface”; USA Network’s “Monk”; and SciFi Channel’s “Battlestar Galactica.” The programs will be available a few hours after they initially air until the next episode airs.
CBS will make available “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “NCIS,” “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” at midnight after their initial airing. Unlike ABC's and NBC's VOD service, commercial spots embedded within CBS's programming will remain. Viewers, however, will have full VOD functionality, including the ability to pause and fast-forward ads. The drama series -- "CSI" and "NCIS" -- will remain on the VOD server until the next episode airs. "Survivor," however, will be available as part of a library format through the duration of the shows' seasons.
The deal marks the first time a broadcast network has offered up valuable prime-time programming through a cable operator’s VOD.
Networks' highest rated shows
After the ABC-iTunes partnership, most industry watchers surmised it was only a matter of time before another network struck a similar on-demand paid-content deal. To be sure, the shows available are some of the networks’ highest rated. CBS’s “CSI” is TV’s highest-rated show of the season, according to Nielsen Media Research, and “NCIS” and “Survivor” rank 7th and 9th, respectively. “Law & Order: SVU” is NBC’s most popular show of the season and “Law & Order: CI” is No. 29 on Nielsen’s list of highest-rated shows, season-to-date. While “The Office” has struggled to expand its audience, it has a core loyal following, which could make it ripe for a pay model.
Previously, satellite TV distributors haven’t been able to offer on-demand programming because their systems are based on a one-way flow of data rather than the two-way path upon which the cable companies have built their VOD concept. Under DirecTV’s Plus DVR, however, subscribers can store up to 100 hours of programming while DirecTV retains 60 hours in which it can download content available for on-demand viewing. Of course, DirecTV’s Plus customers can still pre-set the DVR to record the shows at no incremental cost; the pay service will target those who forget to pre-program their DVR.
DirecTV eyes other partners
According to a DirecTV spokesman, the company is talking to other networks and content providers -- from concert promoters to sports leagues -- hoping to reach agreements similar to the NBC deal. DirecTV has 15 million subscribers.
Separately today, TiVo and Yahoo announced a partnership that would allow TiVo subscribers to program their DVRs through Yahoo’s portal. While subscribers can already remotely program their TiVos through the company’s Web site, Yahoo greatly expands TiVo’s promotional footprint at a time when DirecTV has stopped promoting the service in favor of its own Plus DVR.
The deal will evolve to allow Yahoo members to upload photos stored on the portal to their TV via TiVo. It does not, however, let TiVo customers view their digitally recorded shows on the Internet. Executives involved in last week’s deal between cable companies and Sprint Nextel believe their arrangement will allow subscribers to watch programs stored on their DVRs through their cell phone.