As Silicon Alley Insider and Saul Hansell of The New York Times note today, you can stream NBC shows to an iPhone or iPod touch, completely bypassing iTunes. As everybody knows, NBC and its network properties pulled their shows off iTunes late last year over a pricing and copy protection spat.
NBC is streaming full episodes of “The Office” and “30 Rock” to the iPhone in unprotected Quicktime format. The files are split into four small segments with no advertising (Update: I watched the whole Office episode again, and at the end of each segment there is a super brief ad — in this case, one for the Toyota Carrolla). The quality is fuzzy at best, but the shows are watchable in portrait and landscape modes.
Unfortunately, only one episode of “The Office” is available — the one where Michael puts his face in cement and Pam is wearing glasses. There’s also one episode of “30 Rock.” The NBC site hints that there may be more shows coming.
Poking around at m.nbc.com/iphone I found no other shows available, although there was a note that episodes were “coming soon” for “Battlestar Galactica.” It was unclear if these would be full shows or just clips, which are also on hand for streaming. Clips were included for shows such as “Chuck,” “Heroes,” and “My Name is Earl”.
It takes a bit of digging through the user interface to find the programs. Once you navigate to the site, you land at a mobile NBC page. Look above the picture and choose the “Shows” tab; it will give you a list of programs to pick from.
Choose “The Office” or “30 Rock”, select the “Watch Video” link, and then “Full Episodes”. Whatever show is available can be found here. You’ll have to experiment to find clips for other programs.
Hansell notes that this is an “important development,” and I agree. “As network bandwidth and compression quality get better, a lot of the music and video that people are now downloading could be streamed instead.” He reminds us that streaming video on a PC was poor several years ago but acceptable now.
There are many compelling reasons why a network like NBC would want to stream shows to the iPhone and other mobile devices.
- the stream is real-time and cannot be easily saved
- streaming is better suited to advertising than downloading
- streaming gets around piracy and digital rights management issues
- streaming bypasses storefronts such as iTunes, where people purchase TV shows for $1.99 per episode — and we all know how NBC feels about iTunes
While working on NBC’s deal to sell its TV shows through Microsoft’s Zune, Hansell ended his discussion with J.B. Perrette, the president digital distribution for NBC Universal, with a question about the paid download strategy. Interestingly, Perrette said the number of people watching free, ad-supported programs on Hulu.com is “far greater” than those buying $1.99 copies from iTunes or Amazon Unbox.
Perrette suggested that streaming to mobile devices may be a better answer, particularly when the technology improves, which it undoubtedly will in time.
“As the mobile Web becomes a popular access point, and video content is available on those platforms, that will become a very relevant and compelling way to get video content,” he told the NYT.
Perhaps NBC’s streaming-to-mobile-devices is a sign of what’s to come.
Photo credit: George Frey/Bloomberg News [via NYT]; Gizmodo