Apple TV to Stream 99 Cent Shows, Sources Say

Apple TV to Stream 99 Cent Shows, Sources Say
The Apple TV set-top box will offer 99-cent TV episodes that can be streamed, not downloaded, according to sources. If true, Apple would be cutting the price of TV episodes in half and competing more squarely with rivals such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon's Video On Demand. Currently Apple TV only allows you to download TV episodes from iTunes and charges an average of $1.99.

According to reports from NewTeeVee, Apple TV's restrictions on content would be similar to current iTunes rentals; you would have 30 days to view your television episode and then have unlimited access to the episode for 24 hours after you start viewing it.

Hollywood Onboard?

It's not clear if any content producers are already on board with Apple's rumored streaming plans, and that may be the biggest hurdle for Apple to overcome. Right now, television networks and specialty channels like NBC, ABC, Showtime and HBO sell individual episode downloads on iTunes for $1.99 to $2.99, depending on whether you buy standard or high-definition videos. Entire past seasons and passes to current television seasons are also available, and typically range in price from $10 to $40.

It's not clear how lucrative television content sales on iTunes are--Apple recently reported $1.1 billion in net sales for the iTunes store during the second quarter of 2010--but I have to wonder how enthusiastic content producers would be with this plan. Especially when you consider Apple's past fights with television execs over pricing, most notably the temporary split between Apple and NBC in 2007.

Then again, with the proliferation of other television streaming services the time may be ripe for an iTunes rental deal. In fact, Apple's entrance into streaming individual television episodes could help the industry overcome a growing problem with piracy.

Could iTunes Rentals Defend Against Pirates?

Alongside the growth of legitimate streaming services such as Hulu and AOL TV, pirate streaming sites have also been gaining in popularity. Pirate sites often have a far better television episode catalog than their legal counterparts thanks to users who record the shows at home on their DVRs and then upload those videos to places like Megavideo and zSHARE. Other sites then index the videos on Megavideo and zSHARE and make the links available to users.

Streaming piracy is becoming so widespread that in late June, federal authorities shut down several pirate streaming sites, including TV Shack and Movies-Links.tv, according to The Wall Street Journal. The problem is, law enforcement and the courts would be about as ineffective in combatting pirate streaming as they have been in discouraging file sharing. But it's entirely possible that nominally priced a la carte television streaming could make paying customers out of current pirate site users.

Just The Latest Apple TV Rumor

Speculation over Apple TV has been a recurring theme in recent months. In August 2009, rumors circulated that Apple was looking to offer a television subscription service to compete directly with the cable companies. More recently, rumors leading up to June's Worldwide Developers Conference suggested that a refreshed Apple TV was on the way and would come with minimal internal storage and store all your Apple TV purchases online instead of on the set-top box's hard drive. The rumored Apple TV would be based on iOS 4 and cost just $99--Apple TV's current base model costs $230.

Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul).

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