Do Broadcasters Finally ‘Get’ the Internet?

Maybe the big broadcasters are starting to get it.

The Disney-ABC Television Group today announced a deal to provide full-length episodes of its primetime shows on AOL video beginning next week. Yesterday, NBC Universal made similar news when it announced it would allow users to download shows and watch them up to a week after their original broadcast.

Both the ABC and NBC programming will be free to view and advertising supported.

ABC will deliver its shows through an embedded broadband player, co-branded “ on AOL” alongside the local ABC affiliate’s station ID. NBC’s offering, called “NBC Direct,” will be available in beta this October.

Setting all this content free, old media moguls are starting to sound like new media mavens.

“Viewers want to be in control of how, when and where they consume their favorite entertainment,” NBC executive Vivi Zigler said in a statement.

Disney-ABC executive Anne Sweeney joined the sentiment. “We remain focused on finding smart, new methods to connect viewers to the content they want and brands they love on the platforms they choose,” Sweeney said.

Forrester research analyst James McQuivey is loving it.

“Isn’t it great?” McQuivey said.

He told that, ridiculous as it might sound, major media are only now offering their content online because after watching the success of YouTube and Web video in general, they finally realized that despite the advent of the Internet, people still want high quality, produced content. They just want to view it whenever and wherever its convenient, even if it means watching advertisements.

That’s a comfortable value proposition for the NBCs and ABCs of the world, McQuivey said. Suddenly the Internet, which for so many years media executives viewed as the enemy, is not.

NBC Direct is not the company’s only new media product set to debut this fall. NBC and News Corp. announced plans to form a video distribution network for premium content called last March. More recently, the announced the name of the new venture, Hulu. And just last week, the Web video joint venture was rumored to have acquired Mojiti LLC, a privately held Web video platform company based in Beijing, China.

Plans for the future of NBC Direct include enhancements such as high-resolution versions of programming and the use of digital rights management software to prevent piracy. NBC is also considering download-to-own, rental and subscription business models for the service.

ABC will monetize its embedded player with up to three interactive advertisements from one national sponsor, as well as an additional local ad insertion. ABC said it will sell the national ads and local affiliates will run local ad sales.

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