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Reports: Apple and NBC mending fences


Apple Inc. and video content provider NBC Universal are working to bury the hatchet, according to reports, which suggest that it's only a matter of time before the network's catalog of television programming returns to the digital shelves of the iTunes Store.

In a post-Macworld keynote interview with BusinessWeek's Peter Burrows, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs discounted reports from mainstream media outlets that suggest the company's differences with NBC over iTunes pricing will evolve into a long-term stalemate that would also see the network unwilling to participate in the new iTunes Movie Rental service.

“Well, I guess your story looks pretty dumb,” Jobs told Burrows, referring to a BusinessWeek story earlier this month that suggested Apple would probably not be able to get Universal and Sony to support its new movie rental service, which it eventually did.

While Jobs agreed that those two studios weren’t the first to arrive at the bargaining table, he claims there were no great obstacles to overcome once they sat down, and that there was no pressure to get the deals inked ahead of last week's Macworld Expo.

“We’ll put it back together on the TV thing," Jobs added. "Everybody lost [when NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker pulled his content off iTunes]. "But NBC is a great company, and Apple is a great company,” neither of which make a habit of ignoring their customers’ desires, he said.

“Fortunately,” Jobs half-joked, “there was a writers’ strike, so it didn’t matter as much as it might have.”

Tempers between the two firms flared last fall after NBC decided not to renew its iTunes distribution contract with Apple, arguing that the iPod maker was unreasonably opposed to experimenting with more flexible pricing structures for TV show downloads.

The dispute culminated in December when Zucker used a breakfast hosted by Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Communications to urge colleagues into taking a stand against iTunes, charging that the service was undermining the ability of traditional media companies to set profitable rates for their content online.

"We know that Apple has destroyed the music business — in terms of pricing — and if we don’t take control, they’ll do the same thing on the video side," he said.

But in speaking to the Financial Times this week, Zucker too appears to have had a sudden change of heart.

"We’ve said all along that we admire Apple, that we want to be in business with Apple," he said. “We’re great fans of Steve Jobs.”