The service will be funded by advertisements embedded within the content that cannot be skipped.
Initially, the service will be Windows only, but a Mac version will be added as well as provision for transferring episodes to a portable device.
"With the creation of this new service, we are acknowledging that now, more than ever, viewers want to be in control of how, when and where they consumer their favorite entertainment," said Vivi Zigler, executive vice president, NBC Digital Entertainment. That was an interesting choice of words considering users will be restricted to a one-week window and (at the outset) watching on a Windows PC.
Other planned enhancements include the ability to subscribe to a show so the software automatically downloads each new episode as it is released, and HD versions distributed via a closed peer to peer network.
According to company officials, the NBC Direct player will not play "any stolen copyrighted material", but there was no indication of how it will be able to tell the difference between content obtained with or without the copyright holders' consent or under statutory licences.
Looking further ahead, the free, ad-supported content may be supplemented by a variety of pay to view options including purchase, rental and subscription.
NBC's statement did not mention whether there will be any geographical restrictions on the new service, but it would be most surprising if it is not limited to the US.
The NBC Direct beta will begin in October, with shows including Heroes, The Office, Life, Bionic Woman, 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
The company already offers a limited 'catch up' service via streaming video on its web site.
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