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NBC To Offer Free, Ad-Supported Downloads Of TV Shows

In a slight to Apple, NBC Direct will only be available for Windows computers initially and will contain ads that cannot be skipped.

Having recently dumped Apple as a partner, NBC plans to move back in with its old flame, advertising.

The entertainment company said on Wednesday that it plans to launch a service called NBC Direct next month offering free, ad-supported downloads of its shows.

"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 VP of NBC Digital Entertainment, in a statement. "Not only does this feature give them more control, but it also gives them a higher quality video experience."

Viewers may want to be in control but that doesn't mean NBC is ready to put them in control. NBC Direct will only be available for Windows computers initially and will contain ads that cannot be skipped. Furthermore, NBC's digital rights management scheme will terminate the ability to view downloaded shows a week after broadcast.

The shows that will be available at launch include Heroes, The Office, Life, Bionic Woman, 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

At some later date, NBC Direct will allow Macintosh users to view its DRM protected files and to transfer them to portable devices.

NBC also said that it is planning to make high definition content available through a closed peer-to-peer distribution network. In 2008, it plans to offer its content under several business models including download-to-own, rental and subscription.

NBC's decision to not to renew its contract with Apple, which will continue to sell NBC shows through iTunes until December, follows from Apple's unwillingness to let NBC sells its shows at different prices. iTunes sells TV shows for $1.99 and movies for $9.99.

In a statement issued at the end of August, Apple positioned itself as the defender of consumers' wallets. "We are disappointed to see NBC leave iTunes because we would not agree to their dramatic price increase," said Eddy Cue, Apple's VP of iTunes.

A few days later, NBC struck a deal with Amazon to sell its TV shows on Amazon's Unbox service. The arrangement supposedly gives NBC more say in how its shows are priced. But at the moment, the NBC content available through Amazon's Unbox lists for $1.99 or less.

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