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Apple to launch iTunes TV service in U.K.

Apple will sell television programs in Britain via its iTunes store as part of its push to become a one-stop shop for digital entertainment.
/ Source: Reuters

Apple Inc. will sell television programs in Britain via its iTunes store as part of its push to become a one-stop shop for digital entertainment, the U.S. company said on Wednesday.

Apple, which launched a similar service in the United States in 2005, said programs such as Lost, Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, Commander in Chief and South Park would be available for $3.80 an episode and it expects to add more content soon.

Users will be able to download and keep the programs, which will be in near-DVD quality, and watch them on a computer, fifth generation iPod or widescreen TV.

"We're thrilled to bring TV programming to the iTunes Store in the UK," said Eddy Cue, Apple's vice president of iTunes, in a statement. "We've got 28 shows and expect to continue to add more great programming."

Analysts said the service would pit Apple against Britain's main broadcasters such as Channel 4, ITV and the BBC which have launched their own on-demand services in the last year.

Channel 4, which broadcasts several U.S. programs such as Ugly Betty and Commander in Chief, allows users of its on-demand service to either rent or keep programs, while the BBC iPlayer offers programs for renting from the previous week.

The ITV service provides live programs, a 30-day catch-up service and access to its archive, while satellite broadcaster BSkyB offers Sky Anytime, a download service which allows viewers to watch programs either through pay-per-view or downloading to keep.

The launch of on-demand services, billed by some television executives as the biggest change in the way viewers watch TV since the switch to color television, comes in response to viewers who are turning away from the traditional TV schedule.

Screen Digest analyst Arash Amel said he expected the Apple service to be very successful, although it would have to compete with the other broadcasters for program rights.

He predicted that the iPod would initially be the most popular system to watch television on as there are lots of commuters in Britain, but said the Apple TV home media hub was likely to take over in the next few years.

Apple currently has rights to show 28 different series through deals with Walt Disney Co's Disney Channel and ABC Studios, and Viacom Inc's MTV, Nickelodeon and Paramount Comedy.