NBC Direct: Don’t Bother

NBC launched its NBC Direct beta over the weekend. The service allows you to download NBC shows to your computer and view them for 48 hours, but compared with the rather elegant (though still limited) Hulu — which is part-owned by NBC — NBC Direct is an overly complicated mess.

First, it’s a separate download client that’s Windows-, Internet Explorer- and Windows Media Player-only. AOL dropped its Hi-Q service, which required a download, after low adoption. Rather than learn from history, NBC appears doomed to repeat it. It could just be the machine I was using, but the install process was long — it took more than 10 minutes just to get the software onto my computer.

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NBC Direct offers only a few shows: 30 Rock, Bionic Woman, Friday Night Lights, Life and The Office. According to NBC, the shows available at any given time will expire seven days after being posted. So if you download one on the sixth day, you only get 24 hours to watch it before it disappears.

You can begin viewing a show while it’s still being downloaded, though when I tried to watch 30 Rock this way, it started, played through the opening credits and then abruptly went back to the beginning (where I had to sit through the pre-roll ad again).

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I will say that the full-screen video looked fine, if a little grainy, with no stutters or stops or interruptions. The fast-forward and rewind buttons were finicky — working well sometimes, not working at all others.

The video “management” feature seems not even half-baked. Clicking on the icon drops you off back on the main web page where you can choose to subscribe. But all it says is “subscription change confirmed.”

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And since this is NBC (GE), it’s chock-full of ads. There’s a pre-roll before the start of every program, then 15-second spots where there would normally be regular TV commercial breaks — which just reinforces the feeling that NBC is treating this as re-purposed TV. There are no embeds and no way to share. NBC says it will add more features, including cast and crew info, as well as commentaries and viewer reviews. It’s hard to muster a yawn.

In short, there is nothing user-friendly at all about this incarnation of NBC Direct and you should avoid it like the plague (or like season two of Heroes — which isn’t available on NBC Direct anyway). I could see it maybe being useful if I was flying somewhere and didn’t like any of films in my Netflix stack — maybe. But that’s hardly a reason to try it.

Sure, it’s in beta, but so was Hulu, and that service offers the same content plus a lot more, not to mention a much better user experience. Heck, NBC.com offers a better experience without any hassle. Right now the quality is not worth the effort, and with only NBC shows ever being available on here, I can’t imagine a time when that limited amount of content would be worth a separate download. Stick with streaming.

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