NBC’s iPad app is a missed opportunity

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NBC has introduced a new iPad app to users as a companion to its online video property, NBC.com. The app, which was released on Thursday, has a wide range of information about its shows, schedules, exclusive images, games, and some short-form video. But the one thing it’s missing is the same thing any user would want and expect from a broadcast network iPad app: access to full-length episodes of NBC shows.

It’s clear the type of promotional value NBC is hoping to get from making short video content available through the app, but it’s more difficult to understand why NBC has decided not to support full-length episodes as well. After all, the network makes full episodes available in an ad-supported fashion on its NBC.com website, as well as on Hulu.com.

There’s clearly a lot of work to be done to turn the broadcast network around, and new parent Comcast is prepared to invest heavily to do so. For now, it seems NBC Universal’s new management team is focused on rebuilding the live programming lineup before worrying too much about its digital strategy. After all, live TV is where all the ad dollars are, and NBC management has a lot of work ahead of it to pull the ailing network out of fourth place in the broadcast rankings.

Providing access to content online and on demand has proven not to be cannibalistic, but complementary to live broadcasts, and can help the overall aggregate audience for a show. The NBC app was released more than a year after the introduction of ABC’s iPad app, which does allow viewers to watch full episodes of its shows on the tablet for free. Shows like Modern Family have seen a boost in overall viewership due to availability on ABC’s network site, as well as on Hulu and ABC’s iPad app.

What’s more, other online video providers already provide access to NBC’s shows on the iPad: Both Netflix and Hulu Plus have apps on the tablet that let users watch NBC’s most popular programming, such as 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and Community. While those are subscription-based services, NBC could have monetized its shows on an ad-supported basis had those episodes been made available on its own app.

In other words, NBC had the opportunity to really own its audience by providing an attractive, easy-to-use application for watching its favorite shows on the iPad. It could have used that not only to help build its own brand and to improve visibility of its shows, but also to increase ad revenues. Instead, its fans will still use the iPad to watch full-length episodes of NBC shows — but they’ll be doing so on someone else’s app.

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