I don't know about you, but I find myself incredibly enthusiastic about Bill Carter's story in today's NY Times detailing NBC's plan to offer free downloads -- not streaming -- of many of its series. Of course, I am annoyed that this service won't be available to all of us Mac users until the unspecified "later," but it's still a step in the right direction. There are so many problems with streaming large, long pieces of video content, but it's understandable that the networks don't want to give whole episodes away for free forever. So NBC is making the files available for seven days past broadcast premiere and then the files essentially self-destruct. The files will have embedded commercials that can't be skipped. If one wants to keep the episode, it will be available for purchase. A purchased version would drop the advertisements..
I hate having to spend $1.99 -- or anything -- on one episode of a series because that's the only way I have to see it. I buy a lot of DVDs but not a lot of series television. No matter how much I love most of the series to which I find myself addicted, I'm not a huge repeat viewer of television. But every now and then, I may want that one episode of Rescue Me or Eureka, or to be specific to NBC, Heroes, 30 Rock, My Name Is Earl, etc. These are all series which I would be quite unlikely to purchase.
How do ideas like these get complicated? By naysayer business analysts like Chris Crotty, quoted by Carter as saying the NBC idea "is a stretch." Carter goes on to say that Crotty apparently explains, "that it would not be attractive to consumers to have to range far and wide over a number of services to find the programs they want to download."
I'm not going to deny that having one central clearinghouse to find everything you need is nicer, but ... Hey asshole! If I have to go to each individual network to get a free episode rather than spending lots of money to get lots of paid episodes that I don't need to keep forever, I would prefer to have that degree of choice. Crotty also says that consumers view NBC as "highly greedy" for leaving iTunes. That may be fair. And I'm a huge lover of Apple -- a cult-member, if you will -- but who knows what really went on in those negotiations. Would Apple have allowed NBC to leave its series on iTunes if they were also offering free downloads for seven days? Maybe. Maybe not. Is Apple protecting the consumer by keeping its single-tiered pricing system, and is NBC trying to gouge us with variable pricing. Maybe. But to me, this system is all upside with the only true and meaningful downside being that it won't be available to me yet.
So kudos NBC. And other networks, don't pull off of iTunes, but try to follow-suit, and please don't listen to analysts who speak for consumers while having little to no concept of what it must be like to be one.