NEW YORK: US media giant NBC Universal has jumped aboard the TV download bandwagon, announcing plans to offer its most popular television shows for free viewing via personal computers.

The service, NBC Direct, is due to debut in November, allowing viewers to watch shows for up to one week after they have been broadcast on TV.

The company recently severed its ties with Apple Computer's iTunes download service following a pricing and piracy dispute.

It is the latest move by a TV company trying to compensate for the erosion of advertising revenues by fragmentation in the medium and ad-skipping technology such as TiVo.

Comments Jeff Gaspin, NBC television group president: "The shift from programmer to consumer-controlling program choices is the biggest change in the media business in the past 25 or 30 years."

NBCD's downloadable shows will contain advertising that cannot be skipped and the files will be rendered unwatchable after the seven day period.

Later, however, the company plans to offer viewers the chance to buy the programs. These versions will come without commercials and can be kept and transferred to other devices.

Gaspin insists the new service does not signal a move away from the company's core business of television broadcasting.

He adds: "Our research shows that 83% of the viewers would still rather watch on a TV than a PC."

Nonetheless, broadcasters do recognize a different trend among younger viewers who spend far more time online and for whom the web is the preferred medium. It is this demographic that is becoming vital to the future of TV.

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff