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Program creators experiment with new forms of TV distribution

As 2005 approaches an end, reverberations from the October introduction of Apple’s video iPod continue to ripple through the television programming industry.

Last week, NBC Universal became the second major television network to sell $1.99 downloadable versions of 11 of its current and older television shows through Apple’s iTunes Music Store. ABC broke the distribution barrier in October, when Apple began selling episodes of several of its current programs for viewing on the latest generation iPod.

NBC said it would sell episodes of some current shows, including "Law & Order," "The Office" and "Surface." The deal also includes some cable programs, including "Monk" from the USA Network and "Battlestar Galactica" from the Sci Fi Channel. Vintage shows like "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Dragnet" and "Adam-12" are also included. Added to the mix will be excerpts from "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO and the architect of the iPod media distribution strategy, told the New York Times that he hoped that his company could create the same market for $1.99 video that it did for 99 cent song downloads.

Apple’s move to video distribution has met early success; having sold more than 3 million video downloads in the past two months. In addition to the ABC content, Apple sells music videos and some short films from Pixar, the animation company that Jobs also heads.

Disney CFO Tom Staggs told investors and analysts that iTunes has sold about 800,000 downloads of ABC’s "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" programs.

Jeff Zucker, president of the NBC Universal Television Group, told the New York Times that an important factor in NBC’s decision was that Internet distribution does not seem to affect the viewership of broadcast programs. Ratings of ABC’s hit shows have climbed since being available on iTunes.

Zucker said NBC had decided to offer its programming in many new formats rather than trying to protect its existing distribution arrangements. Last month, it announced a deal to let viewers watch episodes of some of its programs on DirecTV the day after broadcast for 99 cents.

The iPod platform is drawing interest from other program producers. ESPN is looking into distributing some of its TV programming on the iTunes service, Disney’s ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer told Reuters last week.

News Corp.’s Fox Filmed Entertainment also is considering a deal with iTunes, co-Chairman James Gianopulos said last week at the Reuters Media and Advertising Summit.

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