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NBC to Apple: 'You're fired!'

Apple to NBC: 'You can't fire me! I quit!'

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The Americanized version of "The Office" will soon disappear from Apple iTunes. The Reg couldn't care less - we prefer the original, and we have no interest in watching even our favorite TV shows on an overpriced, DRM-shackled, handheld status symbol - but many uncultured Apple-loving web mavens are sure to be very upset.

Late yesterday, as reported by The New York Times, NBC Universal informed Apple that it would not renew its contract to sell "The Office" and other TV shows over iTunes, a ridiculously-popular digital music and video download service. The contract won't expire until December, but Apple responded by telling the world that it would remove NBC shows from iTunes "beginning in September" - i.e. very shortly.

But the bigger news is that Apple actually responded to us when we sent a note requesting comment. "Hi Cade," a spokesman wrote. "We put out a press release this morning on NBC: http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2007/08/31itunes.html". At least one El Reg hack is convinced that the world is ending.

An anonymous NBC source told The Times that the American media conglomerate was unable to reach an agreement with Jobs and Co. on pricing, and this was confirmed by Apple's press release: "We are disappointed to see NBC leave iTunes because we would not agree to their dramatic price increase," said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of iTunes. "We hope they will change their minds and offer their TV shows to the tens of millions of iTunes customers."

According to the release, NBC demanded "more than double the wholesale price" for its shows, an increase that would have forced Apple to raise its iTunes retail price from $1.99 to $4.99. Apple also pointed out that the other four major American broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, and The CW) and more than 50 cable networks are still selling their brand new shows at the old $1.99 price, but over the coming months, these contracts are set to expire as well.

What Apple didn't say is that NBC is iTunes' top video supplier, responsible for about 40 per cent of all downloads. Jobs and Co. dominate the music and video download market, but more than one crack has turned up in its relationships with the big studios and record labels, companies that often grumble about iTunes' low retail prices. Universal Music Group, the world's largest record label, recently declined to renew its contract with Apple, reserving the right to remove its songs from iTunes at any time.

That said, EMI Music recently gave Apple the go-ahead to sell its songs without the usual DRM shackles. This is the only good thing we have to say about iTunes. ®

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