More Details On NBC’s Ad-Supported Downloads

Sometime in October, NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) will start a private beta of a new service called NBC Direct: the first ad-supported downloads from a broadcast network. If all goes well, viewers will be able to sign in at will and download current episodes of NBC Studio-owned prime-time and late-night shows. It’s an example of increasingly ubiquitous professional video — and of a strategy being embraced by NBC and others that makes the network provider, distributor and retailer. It’s also more competition for the video download space owned by Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) iTunes, another sign from NBC, in particular, that it can forge its own way if Apple doesn’t bend on pricing. During an interview with late Wednesday afternoon, Vivi Zigler, EVP, NBC Digital Entertainment, explained some of the details, the thinking behind NBC Direct and why she doesn’t see it as direct competition for upcoming NBCU-News Corp. (NYSE: NWS) JV Hulu.

How it works: Following registration, users will have two options: sign up for a season pass that will deliver by progressive download each new episode the morning after it premieres (episodes go online after primetime in Hawaii, so about 2 a.m. eastern) or what Zigler calls “free on demand” (FOD). Either way, the show sits on the PC for a week, then expires. If it’s not watched within 48 hours, though, the users has to sign in for the show to be relicensed “so we can serve you the up to- the-minute freshest advertising.” The plan is for something more automatic eventually.

The technology: Zigler said the download player was designed in-house. will unveil its new on-site player next week, lots of bells and whistles including the ability to host viewing parties with friends all watching a synchronous stream. The features viewers respond to most online eventually could wind up on the download player.

Business models: It starts as ad supported; other options diepend on how viewers respond. It may be offered both ad supported and premium subscription without ads; also as download-to-own.

Hulu: Zigler compares the difference between Hulu and or other verticals to shopping in a department store versus a boutique. Hulu is a “deeply aggregated play .. how to look and find quality video across a broad offering. They’re everything, they’re not about a deep, deep experience on a single show.” Both are part of the mission to provide multiple options for viewers.

Other nets: Discussions are underway with NBCU’s other nets to expand the service. Zigler: “We have to get the experience right and fine tune it for the user. We don