The NBC and CBS networks have unveiled separate plans to make selected primetime programmes available the day after first transmission at 99 cents an episode.
It follows news that ABC is making downloads of its hit series available for $1.99 an episode through the Apple online service.
The separate ventures form NBC and CBS will make programmes available for viewing on television, as opposed to a personal computer or portable device.
“The way people are consuming content is changing,” said David Zaslav, president of NBC Universal Cable, who described the deal as the first of its kind.
Selected programmes from NBC Universal and its cable entertainment networks will be broadcast – without commercials – to the interactive digital video recorders of subscribers to satellite broadcaster DIRECTV. The programmes will be available for a week.
DIRECTV has just launched its own digital video recorder, based on software from NDS. This has a hard disk that can store around 160 hours of programming, of which about 60 will be reserved to allow programmes to be downloaded to provide a form of video-on-demand service.
“We are extremely aware that viewers can’t always watch these programs when they’re originally scheduled, and this will give them far more control over when they’re able to see these shows,” said Zucker, president of the NBC Universal Television Group.
“DVRs have fundamentally changed the way people watch television, giving viewers greater choice, control and convenience,” added Chase Carey, the president and chief executive of DIRECTV.
Viewers will also have the option to avoid paying 99 cents by using the digital video recorder to record the episode themselves for later viewing at any time, albeit with adverts.
Hours later, CBS announced that from January it will make selected programmes available to digital cable customers of Comcast in markets with a CBS owned and operated television station. However, in this case, the plan is to retain the commercials from the original broadcast.
CBS is the first broadcast network to offer its primetime programming through video-on-demand with a cable provider. Comcast has delivered over a billion video-on-demand programme views this year.
“Video on demand has fundamentally changed the way people watch TV,” said Brian Roberts, the chairman and chief executive of Comcast Corporation. “CBS has taken a giant step forward in experimenting with prime-time video on demand.”
Commenting on the partnership with Comcast, Leslie Moonves, the chairman of CBS said: “This is an incredibly exciting evolution for CBS and network television – video on demand is the next frontier for our industry, and we are thrilled to be partnering with Comcast in taking this giant, positive leap forward.”
The initiatives indicate the willingness of the major networks to entertain new business models and methods of distribution. They come as the dominance of traditional advertiser-funded channels is increasingly eroded by the consumer convenience of personal video recorders and video-on-demand services.
The 99 cent offer attempts to create a retail price for programming that has previously been considered free – much of which is already available as illicit downloads – without cannibalising its lucrative DVD market, just as Apple has established a $1.99 price point for music tracks.
It marks a significant change in the television landscape, with the deals breaking the deadlock that has so far kept primetime programming off on-demand services.