NBC is getting aggressive on the digital front, giving net-savvy viewers new ways to watch TV. Earlier this month, NBC began offering the Sunday morning news show “Meet the Press” as a stream and a podcast. Right now “Meet the Press” may be the most multi-platform program in all of television; I was able to watch the December 17th episode using eight different methods. (Post a comment if you’ve tried streaming or downloading a TV show, and let us know how you liked the experience.)
The earliest I can watch “Meet the Press” in Santa Monica is at 8am Pacific on Sunday, when the show airs on KNBC. My Time Warner Cable DVR automatically records the show, and I usually watch it later in the morning, skipping the commercials and fast-forwarding through some of the guests.
The newfangled digital options do not become available until 10am Pacific, giving KNBC a brief exclusive broadcast window. When the clock hits 10am Pacific, I can get the show via the Internet in several different ways.
If I want to stream the entire program at the “Meet the Press” homepage on MSNBC.com, I have to sit through a Pfizer commercial first. Unlike watching on the DVR, I can’t rewind or fast-forward seeking a particular part of the show. Peering at a Post-It sized window while seated on a task chair for sixty minutes doesn’t sound too appealing.
A better option is to stream the show in segments. MSNBC.com offers a handy video jukebox that breaks up the show into bite-sized clips, allowing me to select Newt Gingrich speaking about Iraq, or the pundits handicapping Barak Obama’s presidential prospects. I can even cue up multiple segments to make my own remix of the program.
Watched in pieces, there are no commercials, other than a static display ad for Boeing. This method is pretty convenient, although I am still tethered to a desktop or laptop with a live broadband connection.
One of the newest and best ways to watch the show is as a Video Podcast. Few Internet users know what a Video Podcast actually is, but in fact it offers several conveniences.
In the same way I can set my DVR to automatically record every episode, I can “subscribe” to the Video Podcast at iTunes. Each episode will be automatically downloaded to my computer and transferred to my video iPod the next time it is returned to its cradle.
Acquired via iTunes, the 184 megabyte MP4 file took nine minutes to download via my DSL connection. NBC also provides the show in Windows Media format for users of the new Zune media player. (If I don’t want to subscribe, I can download single episodes in the same formats at MSNBC.com.)
A “talking head” show doesn’t suffer too much when viewed on a small screen, so I can imagine watching the show on an iPod at the gym, at Starbucks, on the subway or on a plane. It’s easy to fast forward through segments I don’t want to watch, and there are no buffering delays.
All in all, NBC is offering a pretty sophisticated set of options, available at three different distribution points, MSNBC.com, iTunes, and Microsoft’s “Zune Marketplace” music store. Two questions come to mind: will a significant number of viewers watch the show digitally, and, if so, can NBC figure out a way to “monetize” them?
Greg Spotts is Creative Director of the Shortlist Music Prize, and rocks the Digital Media beat for Fast Company.