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TV: NBC is loser in spat with Apple

Published September 10, 2007 12:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

NBC couldn't have worse timing.

The Peacock network, home to great series like "The Office," "Heroes" and "Friday Night Lights," cut itself off from iTunes earlier this month in a move that is sure to hurt NBC much more than it will Apple, which owns the downloadable music and video service.

The decision to pull out became a very bitter and public fight.

Apple claimed it severed the deal with NBC after the network wanted to "more than double the wholesale price for each NBC TV episode," forcing Apple to raise the price of each episode to $4.99. Currently, they're $1.99 per episode on iTunes.

Meanwhile, NBC fired back at Apple, claiming it just wanted more flexibility in wholesale pricing and in the way shows were packaged for sale.

It's the most bone-headed move a television network can make right now.

For one thing, NBC pulled out of its contract with Apple a week before the introduction of a whole new lineup of iPods, including the new iPod "touch," which has a 3.5-inch-wide screen perfect for viewing video.

Between now and Christmas, sales of the new iPods likely will go through the roof with new versions of the digital player geared specifically for video watching. That many more people will be ready to buy new episodes of their favorite shows.

It also doesn't help that this deal went sour just before the start of the fall TV season, when millions will be turning to iTunes to get episodes of new shows.

Finally, NBC, which is in fourth place in the ratings, needs iTunes to drum up interest in its series.

Many credit the success of "The Office" on iTunes for giving that sitcom a leg up on television. The service gives extra visibility to shows like "Friday Night Lights" or "30 Rock," which need the exposure if they are to survive another season.

Just how popular is the Apple service? It's the third-biggest seller of music in the U.S. after Wal-Mart and Best Buy, according to Apple, and sells more than Target or Amazon.com.

I tend to believe Apple's explanation for the break over NBC's.

Apple has insisted on keeping the pricing on iTunes the same - songs for 99 cents and episodes for $1.99.

But NBC, like all the other television networks, doesn't understand why downloadable content is going to change the face of TV. They just want to make money off it.

For viewers seeking more ways to catch their favorite series, not having access to NBC series just makes that quest more frustrating.

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* VINCE HORIUCHI's column appears Mondays and Fridays. He can be reached at vince@ sltrib.com or 801-257-8607.