Episodes now available only for purchase

Apple quietly removed the rental option on TV episodes from iTunes on Friday, nearly a year after it took the controversial step to make them available.

Series will now be offered only for purchase, a decision that may no doubt please the studios given the higher profit margins that come with that kind of transaction. Episodes for download tend to cost consumers at least an extra dollar.

The iTunes rental option is still in place on movies and is not expected to go anywhere given the sizable gap in pricing between rental and purchase for that content.

“ITunes customers have shown they overwhelmingly prefer buying TV shows,” said an Apple spokesman.

When Apple introduced 99¢ rentals last October on shows from Fox and ABC like “24″ and “Desperate Housewives,” it was done to spur interest in the simultaneous deployment of Apple TV, a set-top device that delivered programming to TV sets.

But it proved to be a controversial move given that no other studio fell in line behind Fox and ABC as Apple publicly invited them to do upon making the announcement. Introducing Apple TV, former CEO Steve Jobs expressed the hope that other studios “would see the light.”

Apple didn’t make the decision to drop the rental option due to studio pressure, according to sources at four different studios who indicated Apple acted on its own, but notified Fox and ABC of its decision before pulling the plug.

However, sources also described the 99¢ offering as a failure. The price differential between rental and purchase was so slim that the meager market for TV on iTunes was comprised mostly of diehard fans who were willing to pay a slight premium to own episodes outright.

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