Wednesday, September 10, 2008

NBC Universal and iTunes: Reunited and it Feels so Good

Let iPod lovers who are fans of "The Office" and "30 Rock" rejoice! NBC content is back on iTunes! About one year ago, Jeff Zucker, head of NBC Universal's Universe, decided they weren't making enough money on digital downloads via the Apple client and wrangled to get Steve Jobs to raise the price per episode from $1.99 to roughly $5.00. Apple held firm by sticking to their manifesto of low priced downloads. Episodic television's set price for was to remain at $1.99 or else any network that chirps otherwise can take a walk. Zucker, one of the many AMPTP members using digital downloads as a bone of contention with the WGA prompting last year's strike, believed that keeping NBC content on iTunes was not lucrative. "We don't want to replace the dollars we were making in the analog world with pennies in the digital side," said Zucker to Variety.

When the 2007-2008 Fall season began, all new episodes were not added to the iTunes store. NBC's contract with Apple expired, and all content was unceremoniously removed over a weekend while no one was looking.

Here’s the sadness: iTunes was an important factor in the success of a show such as "The Office". It was the number one downloaded television show on the site, allowing people who were unable to view the Thursday night lineup, or couldn't afford TiVo or various a DVR service, the chance to view it for a minimal fee. One can also surmise that "30 Rock" may be dealing with a ratings struggle because the people who would rather download a show for keeps might have been able to boost the show’s popularity the same way. It’s interesting to see that NBC Universal's tactic to get more money backfired. Jobs will not play around with the pricing of content, and is too powerful to screw. Not allowing another platform for viewers to see their shows on another platform may have hurt the network. NBC is worse off in the ratings, their presence as a technological kill joy has shown them to be unfair to fans that rely on iTunes. To top that off, their fall 08 lineup is less than spectacular. At least they have their show back up for download just in time to offer programming to those who might not otherwise see it on television.

NBC gave download junkies the option of, a free service where all NBC, Fox, and all other broadcasters could provide programming of all shapes and sizes. Not only would you be able to view new episodes with limited commercial interruptions, you could also view archived programs, clips, trailers, deleted scenes and classic cult television like “The A-Team”. Whoopie!

Actually, Hulu turned out to be a pretty decent alternative to iTunes. The content was plentiful, and the quality of picture was high. Many a friend would tell me there were catching up on the “O.C” or another prime time show that went off the air years ago. Some people didn’t want to pay $1.99 to view television shows, and were perfectly happy watching commercials since there was usually one spot per break rather than multiple spots. I personally enjoyed viewing programs on Hulu. Deleted scenes sometimes were available for viewing before they appeared on the network site. There was a vast array of past seasons of programs to choose from. Also, those commercials weren’t so bad. Plenty of “pros” to the alternative; yet, the one “con” I can conjure is the inability to keep the show on your computer and to download to iPod for portable viewing. As a commuter, I enjoy being able to call up any episode of “30 Rock”, or a segment from “Late Night” while chugging it back and forth between the suburbs and Manhattan.

iTunes 8.0 provides subscribers with the option to once again view “The Office”, “30 Rock”, “SNL” and all NBC content once more. When I upgraded and went to the store, the vision of prime time favorites, once missing and now found, was like seeing the coolest bike under the tree at Christmas. I hope Zucker is somewhere licking his wounds.

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