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NBC and iTunes mend fences in the name of cash

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Looks like all the fussin’ and feudin’ between NBC Universal and Apple has come to an end (for now) as the two companies announced yesterday that shows from networks within the Peacock family (NBC, Bravo, USA, Sci Fi, et al) will once again be available through the iTunes service. NBC Uni pulled out of iTunes last fall after a fight over pricing. NBC was the No. 1 supplier of iTunes’ digital media, and NBC Universal president Jeff Zucker wanted some say over Apple’s flat $1.99 per episode pricing scheme (some reports say he was pushing for $4.99 per episode). Despite NBC’s value to iTunes, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said no, and NBC opted to not renew its contract with iTunes.

You’ve got to admire Zucker for trying to take down iTunes’ stranglehold on digital media distribution and its strict, secretive, proprietary (and extremely successful) way of doing business. You also have to admire that he is big enough to admit when he’s licked: Hulu, Zune Marketplace, and Amazon UnBox (Amazon what? Exactly.) just don’t pose a serious threat to the iTunes hegemony — or its cash-generating prowess. So, in a deal that includes a new $2.99 per HD episode option, NBC has come back into the Apple fold just in time for the fall TV season.

Though Jobs has seemingly won this battle, he remains a half step behind in the war against piracy by failing to offer the subscription-based model it was rumored would be unveiled this fall. The reduced-price season pass option for TV shows is a step in the right direction, but the real way to win the entire public is have them think of the monthly iTunes subscription as a “necessity” on par with cable, Internet, and cell phone service. You think Verizon Wireless would be doing as well if it was based on a price-per-call structure? iTunes is certainly better off being able to offer a Heroes season pass for $29.90, but there will be a whole lot of people who’ll find those same episodes elsewhere for free AND be able to view them not only on an iPod, but also on a Creative Zen player (without tedious conversion), a portable DVD player in the car, and any other device they desire.

What of you, PopWatchers? You psyched to watch NBC shows on iTunes, or does live TV and your DVR suffice? And how about those of you (fess up, now) who download shows for free — would you be tempted to sign up for a subscription model instead?

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