Vivi Zigler, EVP of digital for NBC Entertainment, is responsible for all of NBC’s individual web sites. Which makes her also responsible for NBC Direct, the network’s much-derided free download service.
We — and many others — are dubious that the site, which offers ad-supported NBC shows that only run on Windows PCs and disappear after seven days, has much mainstream appeal. And since Vivi wouldn’t provide usage numbers for the service, we’ll continue to think that until we see otherwise.
But we did want to give Vivi the chance to explain the thinking behind the service, and where it’s going next. The upshot: She knows it has a way to go, and says it will get there sooner than later.
Silicon Alley Insider: NBC Direct has been in beta since last fall. When will you start marketing it?
Zigler: We’ll take the beta word off of it next fall. We want to do more enhancements to the consumer interface, and will keep tweaking and working on it over the summer.
SAI: In the past you’ve said the service would come out of beta this Spring. What’s the holdup?
Zigler: We’ll pull the “beta” off when we feel the consumer interface is good. Keep in mind, it’s open to the public now. We want to get the underlying technology right first. The worst thing we can do is have a bad user experience.
SAI: Can you describe the techical hurdles? Is it an issue with Microsoft’s copy-protection software you’re using?
Zigler: DRM is a concern, but its also ad serving and the timing of subscriptions. This is advertising-supported but if you wait more than 48 hours to watch you have to reconnect and get new commercials. It’s not a viable product if the commercials are stale and we can’t serve new ones. There are a lot of moving parts.
SAI: Why would I use NBC Direct, when I can get much easier access to NBC shows on Hulu.com?
Zigler: People like different options and like to do different things. We have no problem making our content available to people in different ways. Once upon a time we said the same thing about TV and DVDs, and of course the two co-existed. iTunes didn’t kill the DVD; it probably broadened the consumer base.
SAI: But what does this service offer I can’t get anywhere else?
Zigler: The reason people watch is out of convenience. It’s something they would watch on TV if they could, and most people choose TV when they can. But this is an alternative. We asked consumers, what would you do if the shows weren’t available? They said they’d probably pirate them. This will be a driver of consumption, easy, simple and there where you want it.
SAI: Last month a partner, Pando Networks, said NBC Direct was going to use a peer-to-peer network for downloads. Why?
Zigler: I think speed, costs and quality; when you put the three together it seemed a good way to go. We want to try it and see if we can achieve quality of close to true HD. We’re pretty close. We’ll be at 2 meg (files) or higher in Q3. We have to test how our technology will work, but we really want to display nothing less than a great picture.
SAI: When will the downloads be Mac-compatible and portable?
Zigler: Our intention is to make it both Mac compatible and have more portability. Our users are upset and I totally hear them.
SAI: You’ve spent a lot of resources building this service. Would you open it up to content from other media companies?
Zigler: For us, this is a point of differentiation. I don’t think we’d hand it over. We are doing this in-house and intend to keep it in the family.
SAI: The number of titles available is limited to shows NBC owns and produced. What about NBC shows produced by other studios?
Zigler: We are in discussion now for those rights; those conversations are taking place over the next couple of months.
SAI: Can you tell us anything about the users of NBC Direct?
Zigler: Not yet.
SAI: How about other observations on TV on the Web?
Zigler: Last year we had four shows available online and now we’re up to 17, the vast majority of primetime. The thing that delights us is people tend to come online and stream an entire show. I can tell you the recall percentages for advertising are very high. It speaks to a number of things; it’s not a passive experience. They come to see a specific show and their mental state is actively engaged in consuming that.
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