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Networks Announce New Online Distribution Plans

NBC and ABC this week announced new plans to distribute their programming online.

NBC.com is launching a new service that allows users to download and view NBC primetime and late-night programming on their desktops for up to one week after the air date. The service, “NBC Direct,” will begin its beta testing rollout in October. The announcement comes several weeks after the Peacock network severed ties with Apple by discontinuing distribution of its programming over iTunes. The company is also collaborating with News Corp. to launch another video programming distribution service, (dubbed “Hulu”), also scheduled for a beta launch in October.

The first iteration will allow users to download full length episodes for screening on Windows-based PCs. Later in the Beta stage, users will be provided a free subscription that will allow them to pre-select desired shows. Future versions anticipate expanded functionality and are supposed to allow DRM (digital rights management) protected programming to be downloaded to Macs and portable devices.

“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 vice president of NBC Digital Entertainment. “Not only does this feature give them more control, but it also gives them a higher quality video experience.”

Initially programs that can be downloaded will 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.

Also this week, ABC announced a partnership with AOL to distribute full-length episodes of its primetime programs on the AOL Video Web site (http://video.aol.com). The programs will be delivered via a co-branded version of ABC.com’s broadband player. The service launched on Thursday with selected shows and will add the new fall shows starting next week. The agreement marks the first time ABC has allowed distribution of its programming online, other than via its own ABC.com portal.

ABC and AOL also will collaborate on offering select short form programming from ABC via an embedded short-form player, which will debut on AOL later this year. The short form programming featured on the embedded player will include both original and derivative content from ABC.

The ABC.com broadband player on AOL will be co-branded with an “ABC.com on AOL” message and will feature geo-targeting capability that will allow the positioning of the local ABC affiliates’ station ID also on the player. Individual episodes viewed online will feature up to three interactive ads from one national sponsor, as well as an additional local ad insertion. ABC will continue to sell national advertising for the broadband player and local affiliates will continue to be responsible for local ad sales.

“We’re excited to partner with AOL on this groundbreaking agreement which not only expands the reach of our quality programming, but ensures the finest online viewing experience available through our own broadband player,” said Anne Sweeney, co-chair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney-ABC Television Group. “As we experiment with new ways to grow our digital business, we remain focused on finding smart, new methods to connect viewers to the content they want and brands they love on the platforms they choose. This deal not only provides additional viewing opportunities for our consumers, but also gives our affiliates and advertisers another way to reach our audience and associate with our powerful network brands.”

ABC says that since launching its online broadband player a year ago, more than 140 million episodes of ABC primetime series have been initiated by users, and to date, ABC affiliates covering 80 percent of the United States have launched or are committed to launching the players on their own Web sites.