20th, NBC unfurl digital deal for ‘Earl’

Comedy ready for download

Karma has descended on 20th Century Fox and NBC, which have finally struck an agreement to bring hit comedy “My Name Is Earl” to digital platforms.

Under the new digital distribution deal, the first and second seasons of “My Name Is Earl” are now available for download via several sites, including iTunes, MySpace, IGN, AOL, Walmart.com and CinemaNow. Also, current episodes will be streamed for free on NBC.com for one week after their broadcast.

Deal is similar to several third-party digital pacts, including ABC’s and NBC’s deals with Warner Bros. TV: The network holds onto streaming rights — which is essentially an ad-supported business, much like on-air TV — while the studio retains electronic sell-through (a backend model similar to syndication and DVD).

“It’s a sensible split in how these rights get divvied up,” said 20th Century Fox TV prexy Gary Newman.

Like other digital deals, the “Earl” pact is a short-term, yearlong deal. “Earl” reps 20th Century Fox TV’s first digital deal with a non-News Corp. sibling.

“They get to stream, we get to do electronic sell-through,” Newman says. “I think there was a recognition that there is a very passionate ‘Earl’ audience out there. Just because of the competitive nature of the time period, people weren’t necessarily able to watch the show.”

“Earl” has been up on iTunes for a week. Show is priced across all platforms at $1.99 an episode, or $37.99 for season one and $36.99 for season two.

“This deal is an excellent example of how this network and our studio partners can work together to give a series like ‘Earl’ every advantage that these emerging distribution platforms have to offer,” said NBC Universal TV West Coast prexy Marc Graboff. “It’s critically important to be using the emerging digital markets strategically.”

“Earl” reps the highest-rated third-party series to date to make a digital deal. Other third-party shows already available on download services include “Scrubs” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”

Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox TV and CBS remain divided on how to strike a digital deal on another 20th laffer, the Eye’s “How I Met Your Mother.”

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