Just An Online Minute... Nets Develop Online Deals For New Season
The shows, including "Prison Break," "Bones," and "K-Ville," will be available as free downloads in advance of their broadcast debuts. The iTunes debuts are coming in advance of the new News Corp./NBC joint venture, Hulu, which also will be a vehicle for Web distribution of TV shows.
Today's news caps a week of announcements about new Web distribution deals. ABC said yesterday it intends to stream its shows on AOL, while NBC -- which recently decided to eschew iTunes -- on Wednesday said it will offer free ad-supported downloads, but that users will only be able to view them for one week.
Of those networks, Fox appears to be the most willing to offer shows free of the kinds of limits that interfere with people's ability to watch shows. With the iTunes downloads, users will own the shows for at least as long as they own their computers, and will be able to transfer them to iPods.
Clearly, the networks are experimenting to see what type of offerings will yield the biggest boost in viewers while still drawing advertisers. To some extent, however, those goals are mutually exclusive: When given a choice, most viewers are certain to opt for an ad-free version of a show that they can watch on demand.
And if the networks want to harness the Web to grow the audience, they're going to have to offer shows in the format that Web users want. Given that reality, Fox's strategy of free iTunes downloads looks more likely to succeed than either NBC's or ABC's.