September 21, 2007
The Odd Couple: Digital Distribution and Network Television Branding, Together at Last? (1 of 2)

Digital distribution and network television branding may seem like strange bedfellows, but a recent announcement by NBC suggests to me that they might be a better match than expected.

Eliminating the Middleman and Branding by Association

On Wednesday, the network announced a new service called NBC Direct, which would enable users to download free,copies of prime time content to their PCs. The files would "expire" in a week.

The service would be ad-supported, with an "unskippable" commercial running before each "chapter" of the program, although no sponsors or advertising partnerships have yet been named, according to MediaPost.

The New York Times reported that, notwithstanding their fallout with Apple and subsequent deal with Amazon's Unbox service, NBC is also planning to implement a pay-per-download service to eliminate the "middleman" and "become a viable competitor to iTunes."

This site would not be connected to Hulu, NBC Universal's project with FOX to create an online home for its video content, even though the testing and release dates of both services fall in October and November of this year.

This strategy presents NBC with multiple opportunities to brand its content online and, in so doing, present a cohesive and clear brand that I think would help to get viewers watching on television, as well as going to the network website. The more audiences are exposed to the network name and the content it offers, the easier it is to monetize the content and hook viewers on NBC's content, recreating broadcast TV's flow, but in an environment where the viewer has more power to pick and choose programming from a menu of network options.

First, it is associating the network brand directly with the programming from the start to the finish of the audience experience, from getting to the website to watching the content, something that Hulu and other aggregate "Internet TV" sites like Joost and Veoh cannot do.

Second, it can talk directly to its viewers or, at the very least, understand what they want. Requiring registration on the website enables more customization of the experience and more data on the viewership for NBC. MediaPost reported that a future addition to NBC Direct will be a subscription option where " pre-select series to be automatically delivered to [subscribers'] computers." Not only does this enable NBC to cater to its audiences and give them easy access to content (which is, in my experience why people go to aggregator sites in the first place), but it also enables them to offer advertisers a more targeted segmenting.

What if subscribers got a version of the content with a single targeted sponsor ad at the beginning or middle of the program, or an advertising message in a notification email? Those models would not only connect consumers and advertisers more effectively, but may help generate valuable metrics on how levels of engagement with a program relate to consumer behavior.