iTunes restores NBC Universal TV

Apple lures network after year-long dispute

Apple has lured NBC Universal back into the iTunes fold after a yearlong pricing dispute.

Apple topper Steve Jobs announced the rapprochement during a Tuesday morning press event in San Francisco, where he unveiled a series of initiatives, including the sale of HD episodes via the iTunes Store.

Apple will continue to sell standard-definition episodes of Peacock skeins for $1.99 — a key sticking point with NBC, which had been lobbying for variable pricing — but will sell HD versions of “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Heroes” for $2.99 an episode.

The dispute between the two companies flared last summer, when Apple declined to sell new Peacock skeins because its deal with NBC was set to expire in a few months. The Peacock continued to sell episodes through other sites such as Amazon.com and inked a deal with Microsoft for the software giant’s Zune player. It did not sever its ties with iTunes completely; iTunes stores in other regions, such as the U.K., continued to sell downloads of NBC skeins.

The NBC announcement was part of an overall presentation that skewed heavily toward music. Jobs demonstrated Genius, which is a music-suggestion feature for iTunes, as well as new models of Nano and iTouch portables.

He also touted the gaming capability of the new iTouch: Calling it already the best portable with which to play video, Jobs playfully suggested, “Now, you can make a pretty good case it’s the best portable for playing games.”

The topper also joked about the rumors about his health. Wearing his trademark jeans and black turtleneck, and looking quite lean, he opened the sesh by saying, “I just wanted to mention this” before pointing to a large screen with the words “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” The line drew a hearty laugh from the Apple faithful.

Jobs also marveled at the number of applications the company has sold at its App Store since its launch a couple months ago.

“This is mind blowing, but it’s even more mind blowing when you realize it was only launched 60 days ago,” he said.

He unveiled an iPhone software update, which he said “fixes lots of bugs.” It is free for all iPhone users.

Jack Johnson closed out the sesh by performing two songs, noting that he was normally used to singing to 20-year-old femmes in the first few rows rather than the male-dominated tech press.

Music-fueled event came one day after rival Microsoft confirmed the latest upgrades to its Zune portable. Starting next week, users will be able to wirelessly download or stream songs from wi-fi hotspots. Upgrades give users the ability to purchase songs from the player’s built-in radio.

However, Zune has a tiny fraction of the overall portable market, which is dominated by Apple. And even though Apple also dominates the TV and movie download biz, music sales bring in the lion’s share of iTunes coin.

“It is the ubiquitous music player,” Jobs said, noting that 8.5 million songs are available for purchase at the iTunes Store. “It’s amazing. We started out with 200,000.”

By contrast, the online store offers more than 30,000 TV episodes and 2,600 feature films. The store boasts 65 million accounts.

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