'The Office' Settles In on iTunes

A modest success on prime-time, NBC's quirky show "The Office" may have found its niche online.

Following in Disney's footsteps, NBC Universal earlier this month made 11 series available for downloading at $1.99 per episode from Apple's iTunes Music Store.

"The Office," starring Steve Carell ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin"), was chief among them, getting plenty of promotion on the front page of the iTunes desktop application.

Once downloaded, episodes can be viewed on Apple's newly released video iPod, which sells for $299 to $399.

The cult fave quickly became one of the service's top downloads. In fact, the Dec. 6 Christmas episode (repeated on Dec. 20), which uncoincidentally features members of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Co.'s staff vying for a video iPod during a disastrous holiday gift swap, is No. 1 on the list, beating such popular offerings as ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost."

And after only a week of offering the service, "The Office" already makes up eight of iTunes' top 20 video downloads.

"'The Office''s audience is young, upscale, trend-setting, and these are the early adapters [to the Web]," says Vince Manzi, president of The NBC Agency, which handles marketing.

The series, which features self-important boss Michael (Carell) attempting to preside mostly over an indifferent staff, definitely appeals to a younger, edgier audience.

Among adults 18 to 49 years old, the audience share that advertisers target, "The Office" is 31st in primetime, but the show ranks 15th among men 18 to 34 years old.

And the show ranks second only to "Will & Grace" among upscale households that earn $100,000 or more annually.

The show has used the Internet in its behalf in other ways.

After the Christmas episode, fans were encouraged to send each other Dunder Mifflin-branded e-Cards from the show's Web site. That marketing move increased Web traffic three-fold, Manzi says.

While there, viewers can also vote for their favorite Dunder Mifflin Christmas party photo, taken by Michael (most of which are bad, in the great tradition of all awkward holiday office parties).

Conventional wisdom used to say that making primetime shows available in other formats would steal viewers from the broadcast network, but TV executives have realized that audiences and advertising dollars have migrated online, so they need to be there too.

"What we're doing now on the Apple platform is offering consumers a new way to sample TV shows," says Frederick Huntsberry, president of NBC Universal Television Distribution & Universal Pictures Group International Operations. "They can catch up, and become part of that social experience of watching shows when everyone else is watching."

Come January, NBC is moving "The Office" and "My Name is Earl" over to Thursdays in attempt to rebuild the Must-See TV dynasty that crumbled when "Friends" waved good-bye.

"We think the time is right to recapture our tradition of great comedy on Thursday," Manzi says. "Our research has shown that viewers are really hungering for a comedy block."

Well, at least a funny comedy block: NBC's "Joey" has not fared well at 8 p.m. and NBC is putting the show on hiatus.

Starting Jan. 5, the line-up will be "Will & Grace" at 8 p.m., followed by the new "Four Kings" at 8:30 p.m., and "Earl" and "The Office" at 9 and 9:30 p.m., respectively. "ER" remains on at 10 p.m.