Just like version 1 of NBC Direct, version 2 will leave you screaming in frustration

nbc directI screamed then, I’m screaming now. NBC Direct, version 2, still disappoints. It’s like NBC is working overtime to piss off its users, or at least force them to use its other online video service Hulu.

NBC opened a second beta trial of NBC Direct, its Web-based video-on-demand (VOD) download service. The new-and-supposedly-improved Direct is now powered by peer-to-peer content distribution from Pando.

NBC Direct, in the works now for nearly a year, is a free download service for NBC programs. It requires a software install (still Windows only); the shows expire in seven days and 48 hours after you begin watching; and include advertising. Direct was universally panned when version 1 debuted last November.

The panning continues.

nbc directThe best panner of the bunch is Liz Gannes at NewTeeVee, who wrote, “I tried to give the software a whirl tonight, but despite my best efforts to upgrade, restart, agree, continue, login, trouble-shoot and force-quit, it just wasn’t happening.” The folks at Ars Technica hung in there a little longer but generally reached the same conclusion.

As for my own experience, I should have known. On the front page of NBC Direct there are lengthy instructions for downloading and an FAQ, not a good sign for easy installation. The upgraded software took about 15 minutes to download over FIOS. Afterward I received an escalating series of messages: a script error, a security upgrade notice, and a dialog box challenging the player’s ability to play its own file extension. And I’m using Windows XP, not Vista.

Best of all, after watching the same intro ad four times, I found my license had expired even though I downloaded and installed the player 20 minutes before. I had also just completed downloads of fresh episodes of “The Office” and “30 Rock”.

Content has gotten worse. When NBC Direct first launched, “Life,” “Bionic Woman,” “30 Rock,” “The Office,” “Friday Night Lights,” and “Heroes” were available, but only a single current episode. For whatever reason, now only “The Office,” “30 Rock,” “American Gladiator,” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” are available, with only the last two with new content.

My advice for NBC Direct version 2? If you love a challenge like downloading software, installing it, solving error message puzzles, and looking for needles in the haystack, then go for it. For the rest of us, use Hulu, make sure your DVR is set, or wait patiently for favorite shows to come out on DVD.

Otherwise, you’ll be screaming too.


last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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