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NBC, CBS pursue on-demand model

Looking to generate new revenue with existing content and leverage Apple Computer’s Video iPod success, NBC and CBS announced separate plans to make some of their primetime shows and movies available for viewers to watch at their leisure — with national but no local commercials — for 99 cents an episode. This on-demand television strategy has been talked about for months and is now becoming reality, thanks to cable TV’s existing two-way infrastructure.

The back-to-back announcements from NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric, and Viacom-owned CBS, came weeks after Walt Disney’s ABC began offering commercial-free Internet downloads of its biggest hits, “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives,” for $1.99 a piece.

The two latest deals add CBS and NBC shows such as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” to the mix of programs networks are clamoring to deliver outside conventional broadcasts, Reuters reported.

The NBC and CBS on-demand services give viewers access to primetime broadcasts the day after the have aired for the first time. These will be available through the television set, as opposed to a personal computer or portable digital device like iPod. Viewers cannot record the shows themselves.

Both services launch early next year, with NBC programs distributed through satellite broadcaster DirecTV Group and CBS via cable giant Comcast.

Under its plan, select TV shows from NBC Universal’s flagship network, NBC, and its cable networks will be made available for on-demand viewing to homes equipped with a new DirecTV DVR.

NBC’s initial offerings will include the two spin-offs of its “Law & Order” franchise —”SVU” and “Criminal Intent,” as well as workplace comedy “The Office” and sea monster thriller “Surface.” Two cable shows also will be part of the mix — USA Network’s “Monk” and SiFi channel’s “Battlestar Galactica.”

Hours after those shows first air on the network each week, they will be “pushed” to DirecTV Plus DVRs, where they will be stored digitally and available the next morning for customers to select and play at their convenience for 99 cents.

The DVR devices can be obtained by DirecTV subscribers from retail outlets for free after a $100 mail-in rebate.

In a separate deal, reported by the New York Times last week, NBC Universal said it would make its movies and television programs available on-demand via the Internet. The company has a new distribution agreement with World Media, the owners of an on-demand service called Peer Impact. Under the new relationship, Vivendi Universal movies like “Ray,” “The Motorcycle Diaries” and “Cinderella Man,” as well as TV specials like “Jerry Springer: Uncensored," will be available for downloading to their computers via Peer Impact for 24 hours.

The CBS venture will initially make four of the network’s biggest primetime hits —”CSI,” “NCIS,” “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race”— available to Comcast digital cable customers in markets served by CBS-owned TV stations. Those areas include Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Baltimore and some outlying suburbs of New York City.

Comcast already offers digital cable customers some 3800 on-demand titles, mostly movies, children’s shows, sports and music, at no extra charge. Comcast has logged more than 1 billion program views this year, as of last month.

Like NBC’s shows, CBS on-demand programs will be sold for 99 cents per episode, the same price online music sites typically charge for downloads of a single song.

In October, Disney began offering next-day Internet downloads of its biggest ABC hits, “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives,” and some other shows for $1.99 per episode via Apple Computer’s online iTunes music store.

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