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Saturday, September 01, 2007, 04:20 pm PT (07:20 pm ET)

NBC refutes Apple's price claims, pledges iTunes shows

NBC Universal has rejected claims by Apple that it wanted to more than double the price of TV shows on iTunes — and has also contradicted threats that new NBC shows would disappear from the iPod maker's online store.

In a statement to the press, NBC flatly dismissed Apple's contention that the TV studio's ultimate goal had been to charge $4.99 per show, more than twice as much as today's $1.99 rate. The actual goal has been to institute "flexibility in wholesale pricing" and bundle shows together in more "attractive" ways, said NBC's executive vice president of communications, Cory Shields.

The studio also insisted that all of its existing shows would see new episodes available for sale through iTunes in spite of Apple's declaration mid-Friday that it wouldn't carry updated NBC programming for the fall season. The company did not say how it intended to force Apple to agree to the terms, but appeared to use its existing contract as leverage.

"We want consumers to know that all our returning series, including new episodes, will be available on iTunes through the remainder of the contract, which expires in early December," said Shields. "Our content is also available on NBC.com, Amazon.com, and the soon-to-launch hulu.com."

The statement reiterates NBC's cautious approach to renewing its contract with Apple, leaving a window open for the the two firms to resolve their dispute before the end of the contract. But in a counter to Apple's own allegations, NBC argued that its would-be partner was the unreasonable firm in the dispute, attempting to keep prices at its media store fixed in a way that favors sales of iPods and iPhones above the shows themselves.

"It is clear that Apple’s retail pricing strategy for its iTunes service is designed to drive sales of Apple devices," Shields asserted," at the expense of those who create the content that make these devices worth buying."

The confirmation of variable pricing as a sticking point for NBC reveals the seriousness of the issue for its parent company Vivendi. July saw NBC's sister company Universal Music Group drop its long-term contract for iTunes music, choosing instead to offer music "at will" so long as Apple maintained its flat 99-cent song pricing. Warner Music and other larger labels have also made similar arguments, but aren't known to have abandoned their own contracts.