Web-savvy viewers routinely catch up with missed TV episodes online, but networks are split on screening them before their premiere.
For the third year, NBC plans an aggressive campaign to make new series widely available a week before their premieres.
Knight Rider, Kath & Kim, Crusoe and My Own Worst Enemy, along with several second-year shows, will be everywhere: NBC's website, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon's UnBox, Microsoft's Xbox Live and Zune, as well as on-demand from TV providers such as Comcast, Cox, Charter, Dish and Verizon Fios. Knight Rider and Lipstick Jungle, due Sept. 24, are available today.
NBC's strategy is at odds with that of most other networks, which plan far more selective treatment. It's unclear whether such peeks help, hurt or have no effect on a show's chances. Early screenings can build positive word of mouth and create awareness, but they also can spread bad buzz faster.
"We want to make (programs) available in as many ways as we can so we can get fans," says marketing chief John Miller. "If you don't embrace people's behavior, you can be lost by it."
Other networks say their local stations and advertisers prefer to have first dibs on fresh content:
•CBS, which has offered advanced peeks at Jericho, this year put nothing online. Instead, it has been screening pilots of comedies Worst Week and Gary Unmarried on American Airlines since Sept. 1. It also held screenings at 10 universities of Worst Week and new drama The Ex List.
•ABC will go online starting later this week with some series, including Samantha Who?, Pushing Daisies and Ugly Betty, but only to tease viewers with the first segment of each episode, often a six-minute clip.
•CW, which last year screened two shows on Yahoo only to see them quickly fail, held back the pilot of 90210 until its debut but has since posted episodes online.
•Fox offered K-Ville and Back to You last fall but had no advance screenings this month. It streamed openers of Fringe and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles only at the same time they aired on TV, and only to on-campus computer users.
Bill Bradford, senior VP at Fox, says the move was an experiment as networks sort out Web strategies. "I don't think anybody's reached the sweet spot yet in terms of Internet viewing of television."