Apple Inc. has scooped up Time Warner Inc.'s HBO to feed television shows to its online iTunes store, reeling in one of the last holdouts among major channels and agreeing to a rare pricing concession to land hit shows like "The Sopranos," "Sex and the City" and "The Wire."
The Cupertino, California-based company said HBO programming began appearing on iTunes Tuesday and the shows cost either $1.99 or $2.99 per episode, making HBO the only channel allowed to charge above the standard $1.99 for their episodes on iTunes.
Eddy Cue, Apple's vice president of iTunes, said the higher prices for some of HBO's shows — in particular "Deadwood," "Rome" and "The Sopranos" — are still cheaper than buying the DVD sets of the full seasons of those shows, which translates into prices two or three times higher per episode.
"I don't think it's a shift in strategy — I view this as an extension of the strategy we've had," Cue said in an interview.
HBO is also trying out a service of its own that allows cable customers with HBO subscriptions and high-speed Internet connections to download shows and movies and play them on personal computers, but it's not widely available.
Apple splits the revenues from iTunes sales with content providers, with most of the money going back to the movie studios, television channels and record labels whose work is sold through the Web site.
That's made iTunes a favorite of independent musicians and other artists whose works wouldn't be distributed as broadly without the service, but has rankled some big-media companies because of Apple's tight control over the pricing.
In a high-profile rejection of Apple's pricing tactics, NBC Universal stopped offering TV shows on iTunes last fall after a spat over its inability to set different prices for certain shows. NBC then defected over to Microsoft Corp.'s camp, offering its TV shows on Microsoft's rival service, Zune Marketplace, where the network was given more flexibility over pricing.
Cue said NBC is the only major channel currently not offering its shows through iTunes. The store currently carries 800 different shows and has sold more than 150 million episodes.
The iTunes store isn't a big cash cow for Apple, making up less than 10 percent of Apple's $24 billion in sales last year, but is a big driver of iPod and Macintosh computer sales.