NBC Universal pulls TV shows from iTunes: no more Heroes for iPod owners

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It’s just a few days since Apple finally started selling TV shows on the UK iTunes Store for £1.99 a pop, but it’s now facing a serious hiccup over in the US.

NBC Universal has just announced that it won’t be renewing its deal to sell shows like Heroes (pictured), The Office and Battlestar Galactica through iTunes. NBCU apparently is responsible for 30% of digital video sales through the iTunes Store, so it’s quite a blow for Apple. Although in fairness, it’s also a bunch of own-nose-biting lost revenue for NBCU.

But what’s even more interesting is the row that’s blown up since NBCU’s announcement, with both sides giving their version of events leading to the split.

Apple kicked off the mudslinging with a statement:

“Apple declined to pay more than double the wholesale price for each NBC TV episode, which would have resulted in the retail price to consumers increasing to $4.99 per episode from the current $1.99. ABC, CBS, FOX and The CW, along with more than 50 cable networks, are signed up to sell TV shows from their upcoming season on iTunes at $1.99 per episode.”

NBCU hit back almost immediately with its response, saying that it DIDN’T want to double the wholesale price, but that instead the dispute concerned “a request for flexibility in wholesale pricing, including the ability to package shows together in ways that could make our content even more attractive for consumers.” Oh, piracy also came into it, since “it is estimated that the typical iPod contains a significant amount of illegally downloaded material”.

What does this mean for us Brits? Well, I’m guessing it means Heroes won’t be coming to iTuns UK anytime soon for starters, although I’d need a broadcasting rights expert to confirm that. But it shows the horse-trading that’s going on behind the scenes of services like iTunes, particularly around the price we pay for digital content (in the music industry, record labels have their own beefs with Apple over iTunes pricing).

In short, something that should be simple – selling us punters TV shows for a price we’re willing to pay – is being made more complicated by wrangles over power, control and money. NBCU is also planning to launch its own advertising-funded online video service, which was presumably also a hefty factor in breaking its deal with Apple.

Whoever’s side you come down on, it’s surely no way to stop millions of people from BitTorrenting Heroes episodes. That’s another fine mess Big Media got itself into, Stan.

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Stuart Dredge