Apple vs. The Networks

by | October 2, 2007 at 3:13 PM | General

House

Add House to the list of shows that won’t be appearing on iTunes this fall. Though it airs on Fox, the show is produced by NBC Universal, which has pulled all its programming after stalled negotiations with Apple. With their contract expiring in December, the battle has grown increasingly fierce after iTunes hosted two new NBC shows (Chuck and Journeyman), bypassing the network and going to the production studios themselves (Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox).

The dispute stems from the current cost of TV shows on iTunes. Apple is dead set on keeping the price at $1.99, while NBC wants to increase the rate per episode (estimations put NBC’s asking price is $3.99).

Among other issues raised by NBC during negotiations was a desire for stricter copyright protection. Much of the internet community has scoffed at this notion, citing the fact that users are already paying for the episodes. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a longtime member of the pirating community, who has never paid for a show from iTunes and “never watches episodes when they air,” dismissed NBC’s concerns over copyright matters as disingenuous.

“Why would NBC be worried about copyrighting when the customers are paying for the episodes?” Torrent sites like “The Pirate Bay [have] episodes up, commercial free, three hours” after they air. Apple is “selling these shows to a non-tech savvy crowd that would rather pay the 2 [dollars] than go through the hassle of pirating. By pulling their programming from iTunes, all they’re going to do is push people away.”

But with services like Fancast and Hulu offering free streaming episodes and NBC making their shows available online, the question becomes whether the networks need Apple or Apple needs the networks.

Michael Nyerges, a long time iTunes user, was surprised and disappointing to learn of the fallout. “A lot of the reason I download stuff on iTunes is so that I can watch when I’m not home. It’s cool that I can watch the episodes free on NBC’s website and I’d do that if I was at home, but I use iPod for flexibility. They don’t have the internet on trains or airplanes.”

While making the issue about portability is an oversimplification, in the end it might be the deciding factor. The severing of ties between NBC and Apple should bring a lot more clarity to the question of why viewers have flocked to the internet en masse for their TV content.

Would they rather pay $1.99 for the ability to watch on the go and skip commercials or do they simply want to watch TV without the burden of primetime scheduling? No one knows, but here’s betting we’ll find out soon.

email nadum at nadum_tv@comcast.com.