Apple To Offer ABC & Fox Shows For $.99; Other Networks & Studios Oppose Rental Plan

For the fans of the 99 Cent stores: now they can buy top-shelf ABC and Fox series for that much. Apple announced today that Fox and ABC, ABC Family, Disney Channel series that are owned by the networks (as well as BBC America shows) will be available for rent on its devices for 99 cents per episode for a trial period of several months, with up to 30 days for the viewer to start watching the rented episode and then 48 hours to finish or watch multiple times.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs also introduced the new Apple TV system, which will play those high-definition shows as well as high-def movies. Priced at $99, the box will only let people rent, not buy, content. (For movies the day they come out on DVD, people will have to pay $4.99)

Jobs is the largest individual shareholder and a board member of Disney, and Disney was the first company that signed on to put its shows on iTunes five years ago. So the company’s decision to join the new rental model was no surprise. “When we put our shows on iTunes five years ago, it was revolutionary,” said Anne Sweeney, co-chair Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group. “Since then, we’ve continued to provide viewers with innovative new ways to access our programming, and today we’re proud to team with Apple on a rental option for fans of our shows.”

News Corp.’s involvement was more surprising, leading some to speculate that the deal might include some additional concessions by Apple, possibly involving its iPad platform.

“We’ve enjoyed a long and valuable relationship with Apple and we’re excited to be working with them over the next several months to explore this innovative offering.” said Jim Gianopulos, chairman and CEO, Fox Filmed Entertainment, who along with fellow chairman Tom Rothman, oversees the company’s TV studio, 20th Century Fox TV. Added Fox Networks entertainment chairman Peter Rice, “We’re always looking to explore innovative and creative ways to reach and engage our viewers on digital platforms, which makes Apple a perfect partner.”

But overall, the creative community has been split on the new discount rental plan, with CBS, NBC Universal and Time Warner opposing it.

“The low price of 99 cents is bad for the content side,” one insider said. “The television business is not a pay-per-view model business; it is a premium pricing license fee model, and that’s not in line with what Apple has just announced. This is a play for Apple to sell hardware, not a play to maximize content.”

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