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BBC to put shows on iTunes 'next week'

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The BBC's commercial arm is expected to announce a deal to distribute shows via the iTunes video store next week.

A TV industry source claims BBC Worldwide will on Tuesday detail plans to set up shop at Apple's online media mall. Our source says BBC Worldwide's digital media director Simon Danker has contacted the BBC's third party production partners to inform them of the new distribution channel.

Worldwide services are distinct from the BBC iPlayer, which offers programmes broadcast in the last seven days online for free. Ashley Highfield, the man with ultimate responsibility for the BBC's online efforts, has indicated iPlayer will be available via the AppleTV set-top box, however.

BBC Worldwide is under pressure from management to increase the profit it funnels back into the BBC proper from selling rights to shows. The UK's national broadcaster is struggling to fund its myriad TV, radio and online services from TV licence fees alone. It's hoped Worldwide, a wholly-owned subsidiary, will double the amount it makes from exploiting programme and other rights at home and abroad within five years.

A BBC Worldwide spokeswoman refused to comment on what she called "market speculation". Apple did not return calls.

It's unclear whether the BBC content will be available internationally. It's likely to be encoded in iTunes' standard MPEG-4 format, but DRM specifications are unknown.

Project Kangaroo, BBC Worldwide's own on-demand streaming and download service in collaboration with ITV and Channel 4, is not due to be launched until later this year.

Apple opened its UK video store last year. The price for a TV show episode is £1.89, compared to $1.99 in the US.

The current roster of programme makers on the UK version of the iTunes video store includes only one British firm, the Wallace and Gromit animation house Aardman. ®

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