NBC Direct Sucked…Your PC Resources

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.


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.


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