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Recent quarrel with iTunes spawns 'Direct' hit

Weeks after its very public dust-up with Apple’s iTunes, NBC U announced it would allow users to download NBC primetime and latenight entertainment shows for free.

The service, called “NBC Direct,” will allow consumers to download shows like “Heroes” or “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” to computers for free viewing for one week after the original airing.

Shows will expire after the first week and will include ads that cannot be skipped.

“We are acknowledging that now, more than ever, viewers want to be in control of how, when and where they consume their favorite entertainment,” said NBC digital exec veep Vivi Zigler.

The first version of the service, which will begin in October, will permit viewing on Windows-based PCs. Future versions will include Macs and portable devices compatible with the copy protection software NBC requires.

NBC’s downloadable player will prevent it from playing any stolen copyrighted material. NBC didn’t say how the player would determine whether content was stolen or under legal use.

Future versions of the service will incorporate download-to-own, rental and subscription business models.

Ultimately, NBC.com plans to create a closed peer-to-peer network that would distribute copy-protected high-resolution shows across the web.

NBC already streams certain shows via NBC.com and its affiliated TV web sites. The new service would allow users to view NBC content on a downloaded basis, so not necessarily connected to the Internet.

NBC U is partner in a joint venture, Hulu.com, with News Corp. to distribute digital TV shows and films, which is also set to launch in October.

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