September 13, 2006 2:54 PM PDT

NBC to stream prime-time episodes 24-7

To build extra buzz for its new fall prime-time TV shows, NBC will be streaming select episodes online for free, the network announced Wednesday.

The ad-supported shows will be put up at 2 a.m. Pacific following their broadcast premieres and are viewable for seven days, until the show's next installment goes up, a spokesman for the network said. The shows can be accessed through the "NBC 24/7" video player, part of NBC's Web site.

The first new program to be streamed over the Web will be the drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," which makes its debut on Sept. 18. On Oct. 1, the NBC 24/7 player will be revamped to allow for higher-resolution viewing.

The service is more a promotional tool than an alternative to paid TV episode downloads like those of Apple's iTunes Store, which sells programs from NBC and other networks. NBC's streaming-program selection is limited to the most recent episodes of prime-time shows in their inaugural season and also may be a temporary stint for some or all of the shows.

For example, only the first four episodes of the comedies "30 Rock" and "Twenty Good Years," are currently scheduled to be streamed on NBC 24/7. The other four shows to be streamed--"Studio 60," as well as fellow dramas "Friday Night Lights," "Kidnapped," and "Heroes"--are slated for eight online installments.

In addition to the shows, a set of "premiere blogs" will be posted on NBC's Web site immediately after the debut episodes of the network's prime-time programs. The blogs, written by members of the cast or creative team of each show, are designed as forums for viewer discussion and feedback, the company said in a statement.

As the divide between television and new media grows blurrier, some have predicted the downfall of TV. But NBC has been proactive in using the Internet as a marketing tool for its new primetime lineup: The pilot episodes of "Studio 60" and "Twenty Good Years" will also be streamed on AOL prior to their broadcast debuts; "Heroes" was served up for free in the iTunes Store; and last month Netflix users were given the option to rent a DVD of "Studio 60" and "Kidnapped." Also, returning NBC show "My Name Is Earl" has been promoted via MySpace.

The network has also recently launched a broadband sports content service as well as the National Broadband Company (NBBC) that aims to syndicate NBC programming on the Web.

Rival network ABC made headlines several months ago when it launched a two-month-long promotion for free downloads of a selection of its prime-time shows, like "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives." According to executives from ABC parent company Disney, these ad-supported downloads will return this fall.

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