In their haste to try to break Apple’s well-earned stronghold on the content download market, NBC is starting its own download service. Rather than charge for the downloads, the downloads will contain unskippable commercials, and according to the Times the downloads will “degrade after the seven-day period and be unwatchable.” Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal Television Group, calls this “kind of like Mission Impossible.”
I agree, but not with the equating of destruction of downloaded content with MI. The real “mission impossible” will be to get customers to accept a download that doesn’t allow skipping commercials and won’t play on a Mac or an iPod. Oh yes: the article says that “the programs will initially be downloadable only to PCs with the Windows operating system, but NBC said it planned to make the service available to Mac computers and iPods later.” Like: as soon as they convince their erstwhile business partners in Redmond to add Mac and iPod compatibility to the appropriate version of Windows Media, I would guess.
I think NBC will also have an impossible mission convincing advertisers that they ought to pay for their ad exposure in this way. The informed advertiser should ask who the target audience for the show is, ask how many of the users who download the file will be able to take it on a mobile device, nod at the answer, then discount NBC’s estimate of the audience size by about 90%.
Put a fork in NBC, folks. They are failing to understand even the basic advertising model on which they thrive, which is: go where the eyeballs are. The fifteen people around the country who enjoy downloading crippled content onto their PCs and not being able to skip commercials and watch on their iPods are not a sufficient audience to build a successful download service on (and if you don’t believe me, ask Amazon). And by putting all their eggs in this basket, they are opening back up the enormous gray market of Bittorrent, which would lose much of its attractiveness for normal users if the content were available for purchase on their own terms.
Don’t trust these guys. They speak out of both sides of their mouths, claiming that music piracy is “facilitated by iTunes”—an iTunes that includes significant DRM features for purchased music. And they claim to understand that “the customer is going to be in control” without understanding that the customer will take control here as well.
Update: See Fake Steve Jobs’s take on the service.