NBC Direct Sucked…Your PC Resources

17 Comments

A sharp-eyed NTV reader tipped us off today about (yet another) problem with the NBC Direct download service. “Joe” wrote in to tell us that the NBC client software also installed the OpenCASE Media Agent application, which was sucking 60 MB of RAM, taxing his CPU, and drastically slowing down his machine — even when NBC Direct wasn’t running. Joe wasn’t alone. Martin over at ghacks.net noted the Media Agent, also installed through NBC Direct, was nabbing 30 MB of his RAM.

nbcdirect-screen-grab-12.jpg

Chris Gardner, chief marketing officer for ExtendMedia, which makes Media Agent, said there were some “known issues” with the first release and that the company updated the software last night. He confirmed that there were instances in which Media Agent was consuming large amounts of RAM and using CPU resources, but said the updated release should drop that number down to using 10-15 MB of RAM during an idle state. [digg=http://digg.com/software/NBC_Direct_SuckedhYour_PC_Resources] The update also removed the debugger, which should improve performance as well. “We’re not trying to kill people’s machines,” said Gardner. Anyone with NBC Direct should have the latest version by the end of today (Tuesday) or tomorrow.

In a nutshell, Media Agent manages the process of downloading content from the content owner to your PC, making sure you have the latest authorized media files and ads.

Gardner said there were four reasons the Media Agent needs that memory even when NBC Direct isn’t running:

  1. Subscription management. It needs to check for new shows that you subscribe to, like Bionic Woman or The Office.
  2. Ad rotation management. If an ExtendMedia customer wants their content ad-supported over a long period of time, it can swap in different ads without having to re-download the content.
  3. Updates. It looks for updates to itself and the player.
  4. Library management. So if a program download gets interrupted, it knows where to pick up where it left off.

I can’t imagine NBC or ExtendMedia winning any friends by having an app running in the background that manages advertisements, but this is a download-and-go service. Once the content’s on your machine, you don’t have to be online to watch it. To make it free, NBC will sell ads on Direct. Those ads will change depending on how long the ad buy is for, so it needs to keep the ads current to make sure advertisers are getting what they paid for.

Martin at ghacks wrote that he was unaware that he had installed Media Agent when he downloaded NBC Direct. When NTV writer Craig Rubens downloaded it, however, he found that there is mention of the “OpenCASE Media Agent” during the install (see screenshot above). Still, if NBC is going to use an application that runs in the background, it should be way more upfront with that information.

NBC representatives were contacted for this article, but they didn’t respond.

One curious bit of information from the ExtendMedia web site is that Media Agent will be “providing intelligence on reporting. This intelligence – details on download progress, completed or canceled videos, download device etc.” We sent a follow-up email to ExtendMedia to see what’s included in the “etc.” intelligence gathering. Here’s what Chris Gardner had to say:

The NBC service is anonymous. You can see on the sign up process no personal info is captured at all. We do keep track of things like successful downloads, whether ads are viewed, connection acknowledgements & other networking communications, etc. But again, that data is not tied to any particular user and we capture no personal information at all. Think of the Media Agent as primarily a “download manager” with some extra capabilities for managing DRM licenses and supporting advertising so folks like NBC can take content they used to charge $2 for and make it free. (BTW, There are literally dozens of download managers out there. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Download_manager for more info on what they do if you are personally curious.)

What questions do you have about Media Agent and NBC? Post your queries below and we’ll see if we can get the companies to answer them.

17 Comments

justin

Beware that the NBC player will scan your system for illegal copies of their shows, like heros. If you have a bit torrent open and it finds any downloads, NBC will notify your ISP. Your ISP will then send you an email telling you to stop or face legal action. So yes that software is spyware.

Kirk M. Schafer

I found this article while searching for an unauthorized service on a machine–the computer has been unacceptably sluggish for some time–and suddenly recalled trying NBC Direct…which never functioned so I assumed it wasn’t installed. I have decades of professional experience, and:

1) I was not aware a service would be installed.
2) I was not aware the application would start with Windows and run in the background.
3) I was not informed that the mysterious service was in any way related to NBC Direct.
4) It is NOT clear how the application should be removed. There are NO entries on the system. It does warn that a partner application (NBC Direct) is running when one tries to remove the service–but it will be restarted after uninstallation completes.
5) My professional opinion is that the memory usage quoted in this article is inappropriately large; information should be read the information from disk and not consume available memory.
6) Firefox–the browser I used to install NBCDirect, where it never actually worked–even after disabling ALL extensions, addons, and the like–would fill up all available memory (about 2GB) with patently normal web browsing. Sure, FF has some leaks–but this required complete removal and reinstallation. I still don’t know where to remove the component the service said it was going to restart.

If I missed the surreptitiously installed programs–along with the other problems–and I carefully read installation processes (how many installers offer a toolbar you’ve said “NO” to 15 times already?), I would hazard that NBC is not making it clear enough what you’re signing up to do. If I do manage to get it completely removed, I will NOT run this application again.

N.B. When posting to this form, I inadvertantly included an extra “.” in my email address. Your system (newteevee.com) simply returned an error message that the email address was incorrect, and provided no subsequent form, at which point I used the BACK button to return to this form. Since I always assume every form will fail, I didn’t lose the content, but anyone else would have lost the entire form–because the site cleared it. It’s a relatively simple update, and I hope a site editor notices this comment.

Vince

If you have uninstalled NBC Direct, you still need to uninstall the Media Agent. Just scroll through the program list until you find the OpenCase Media Agent. GET RID OF IT. Anyone wonder why it’s eating CPU cycles? It’s port scanning. I fired up wireshark and it’s scanning incremented ports looking for an open port. Here’s the kicker, I already had the NBCDirect software uninstalled. Make sure you get both. This is just terrible software and NBC should be ashamed of themselves.

V

A

Thank you so much! My computer had been running much more slowly than usual, and after I checked add/remove programs, I found OpenCase, looked it up, and saw this. I’d removed the NBC player a day after installing, but hadn’t realized that there was an additional component. Hopefully, uninstalling it will get my computer back to speed. Thanks again!

James Anderson

Just report their Application to the Anti-Spyware/Adware software manufacturers (Sunbelt/Lavasoft/SpyBot etc) and let people make a choice when they run their anti-spyware removal software if they want this type of data mining spy/adware software on their computer, Gator and its ilk are just download managers too but they are branded Adware so this NBC app is really no different.

call a spade a spade instead of deceptive descriptions purposely intended to fool/goad the user.

Frank Sinton

Using a Download Manager is typical for DRM-ed content and Extend has a great product. If you have used any movie download service, they all use a download manager of some sort.

However, NBCDirect should be upfront and let the customer know what is being installed and why.

matt_

I removed the process and Extend Media and NBC do not say upfront this sofware will be running in the back ground even while not in use ……

I wont be installing it again unless they give me a portion of the ad revenue (superdistribution) ,serve their content p2p style so NBC Direct has a reason to run a invasive process on my computer and learn some lessons on installing malware of users computers .

Martin

Chris, what I was not aware of and was not mentioned during installation is that this Open Case Media Agent installs itself as a service in Windows starting automatically during system startup.

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