NBC To Launch Loathsome, Defective Video Download Service

The other shoe has dropped in the Apple/NBC divorce. NBC announced plans to launch its own online video service this fall (which suggests to me that they’ve been working on the service for some time now — without a doubt they had this plan in their back pockets during their negotiations with Apple).

I can already tell you that the NBC store will suck because it does so much less (and, if NBC has their way, will eventually cost much more) than the iTunes store. The NY Times story describes it in these less-than-mouth-watering terms:

"The NBC service, called NBC Direct, will begin a testing period in
October with plans to be operational in November. The service will
allow customers to download full episodes of NBC shows for seven days
on Windows-based PCs. The file will expire after the seven days."

"Seven days on Windows-based PCs" is the tipoff here — the Times reporter doesn’t say this explicitly because he doesn’t want to damage our tender little brains, but seven days/Windows-only only suggests to me that NBC plans to use Windows Media DRM. This means that it won’t work on any other operating system, which means NBC has denied itself access to 10-15% of the U.S. market (and even more overseas).

The fact that the NBC service will be "free" is what the NY Times writer chose to lead with. He buried the real story, which is that this is really a rental service, not a store — it will be a totally different business model from iTunes — more competitive with Blockbuster, really, than iTunes.

Here’s the bit the writer really screwed up, though: the terms under which NBC wants to "sell" you videos are not just worse than iTunes, but worse than every single video delivery system that has ever existed. Consider the alternatives you have for watching recorded TV programming today:

  • Taping a TV show to a VHS cassette lets you watch it as much as you like forever and play it back on any VHS player anywhere.
  • Recording something to Tivo lets you watch it as much as you like forever on several different devices (if you have the right Tivo model).
  • Netflix lets you rent a DVD and keep it as long as you like.
  • Amazon Unbox lets you keep a pay-per-view program for 30 days before the movie kerplodes.
  • Even Blockbuster is a better deal, since they adopted the Netflix business model and don’t charge late fees anymore.

It’s not even worth my time to download a TV show for free if it’s going to expire in just seven days, honestly.

Update: The Federal Government of News ran a second story about this with some more detail and some more humorous quotes about how scared the network is of nasty evil internet video pirates. This piece discloses NBC’s fantasy price point for video downloads ($4.99!), suggests that they’re going to support Macs and iPods Real Soon Now, and specifies that the free downloads will contain commercials that can’t be skipped. Just what I was hoping for.

Update: This has now launched. All the reviews I’ve read about it say that it sucks just as much as we suspected it would. I wouldn’t know because I’m using a Mac and the service doesn’t work with Macs. Doesn’t work with Firefox either. Pass.