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NBC unveils self-destructing, ad-addled anti-iTunes service

'Take that, Steveo!'

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Less than a month after its very public breakup with Apple iTunes, NBC Universal has announced its own rights-restricting video download service.

With the new NBC Direct, due for beta testing sometime in October, you'll have the power to download shows like "The Office" and "Heroes" immediately after they're broadcast on national television - without paying a penny. But don't get too excited. You can't view these videos on more than one Windows PC. They're riddled with commercials you can't skip. And they self-destruct after seven days.

In announcing the service, Vivi Zigler, executive vice president of NBC digital entertainment, decided to make no sense whatsoever. "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 consume their favorite entertainment,” he said. “Not only does this feature give them more control, but it also gives them a higher quality video experience.”

At the end of August, NBC informed Apple that it was not renewing its contract to sell "The Office," "Heroes," and other inane shows over iTunes. The contract wasn due to expire in December, but Apple threw a fit, saying it would pre-emptively axe NBC's shows sometime this month.

Apple turnover

According to Apple, NBC failed to renew the contract because Jobs and Co. wouldn't fork over more money for the shows. Supposedly, the media giant wanted "more than double" the existing wholesale price, and Apple said absolutely not, claiming that such a deal would see iTunes' retail price leap from $1.99 to $4.99.

But as it turns out, NBC had already inked a deal to sell its shows via Amazon's Unbox service - at the same $1.99 price tag. Clearly, the company broke up with Apple over more than just price, as reported this morning by The New York Times. In speaking with the paper, NBC was adamant that its chief iTunes concern has always been video piracy.

The company goes a long way towards proving this point with NBC Direct - which will now offer NBC videos alongside Amazon Unbox.

Set for official release in November, NBC Direct will offer a free subscription that automatically downloads shows to your PC after they're first broadcast. But, yes, they self-destruct after one week. "Kind of like ‘Mission: Impossible,’ only I don’t think there would be any explosion and smoke,” Jeff Gaspin, president of the NBC Universal television group, told The Times. And according to a company spokeswoman, you can't download them again. They disappear from NBC's servers as well.

Of course, it would be silly to say that NBC Direct isn't about money. Remember: You can't skip those embedded ads.

The question is whether this business model will actually work. NBC hopes to make some dough in two different ways through two different video download services - and we aren't interested in either one. And with free unrestricted, ad-free copies of these shows bouncing around the web, we're not sure how many others will be interested.

Nonetheless, NBC has high hopes. The initial version of NBC Direct will only work with Windows PCs, but the company is prepping versions that allow downloads on Macs and portable devices, including iPods. The company is also planning a "closed peer-to-peer network" for video downloads, and at some point, it may allow users to rent and purchase videos.

You're interested in buying NBC videos now? You'll have to go to Amazon. Of course, you'll run into rights restrictions there as well. At any given time, Unbox videos are restricted to two Windows PCs or TiVO digital video recorders and two portable video players. And no, that doesn't include iPods or iPhones.

Or maybe you can visit another service - one that does allow downloads onto iPods and iPhones. Despite Apple's hissy fit, NBC's shows are still available on iTunes. You bluffing, Steve?

Bootnote

We're guessing that our overseas readers won't have access to NBC Direct. The service isn't likely to be accessible outside the US. Our overseas readers always get the long end of the stick. ®

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