Fox preps 'American' downloads

“American Idol” could finally be coming to a computer near you.

After months of speculation over such plans, Fox is close to announcing it will sell digital downloads from the massively popular show.

Under the proposed arrangement, individual contestant perfs from Tuesday’s performance show will be available on the program’s official site,, shortly after they air. Downloads will be for both desktop and iPod platforms, in both audio and video formats. Video downloads will sell for $1.99, audio downloads for 99¢. The entire episode will not be available.

The downloads could go live on the site as soon as tonight’s episode, but it’s more likely they’ll become available beginning May 9, when the final six episodes of the show kick off.

Insiders noted there are still rights issues that could delay the deal, though they remained optimistic that the pact will be completed shortly.

Execs at Fox Interactive Media, the News Corp. division handling the deal and distributing the show to digital platforms, and FremantleMedia, which produces the show, declined to comment.

Coin from the deal, which is likely to be significant, will be shared among Fox, Fremantle and co-producer 19 Entertainment. The three share revenue on all online and wireless properties spun off from the series.

Fox recently sealed a deal with affiliates in which net will share revenue from iTunes, online and other digital services, likely paving the way for the “Idol” agreement.

Move would be the boldest step yet to make the blockbuster show available on a new platform. “Idol” already has a number of programming elements repackaged for digital venues, including cell-phone ringtones and a VIP club, which allows subscribers who pay $30 to access additional material.

But it will continue to shy away from making entire episodes available — largely because getting rights clearances for the many pieces of music featured on the program would prove too onerous.

“Idol” has long been thought an ideal candidate for digital distribution; after all, the show’s results are decided by interactive cell-phone voting. But rights issues, affiliate resistance and the fact that the franchise has been so lucrative have all prevented Fox from attempting a bolder offering.

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