Disney First Up for Apple’s Video ‘iPod’

Missed this week’s Desperate Housewives and Lost episodes? Viewers can now download those ABC shows, as well as select Disney Channel shows, to PCs and new Apple Computer Inc. video “iPod” devices as part of a groundbreaking distribution deal between The Walt Disney Co. and Apple, announced Wednesday.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Apple -- through its iTunes Music Store -- will sell episodes of Housewives, Lost and new series The Night Stalker one day after they appear on ABC for $1.99 each, Disney executives said. Viewers will also have access to the prior seasons of both shows, which are currently out on DVD.

In addition, episodes of Disney Channel’s popular tween series, That’s So Raven and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, will be available for purchase.

“When you think about how life continues to change for people, it really serves to enhance viewers’ experience with ABC and with the show,” Disney Media Networks co-chairman and Disney-ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney said. “If you miss an episode, you can download it at 8 a.m. the morning after the broadcast.”

The deal comes as Disney continues to formulate a video-on-demand offering for its broadcast- and cable-network programming. Sweeney said the iTunes deal does not preclude a potential VOD deal with operators for ABC or Disney Channel product, adding that Disney is open to an agreement “if we can come to terms on a deal with whoever is interested.” Cablevision Systems Corp. currently offers a Disney Channel subscription-VOD service for $5.95 per month.

“We see all of these platforms coexisting because they’ll be used by different consumers for different reasons,” Sweeney said. “It’s about being on the right devices, the right platforms and making our content more available to our viewers and, as a result, our networks.”

But not all content distributors were quick to dance to Disney’s iTune. NBC Universal Digital Media president Deborah Reif said in a prepared statement that the company is “having conversations with many top players,” but its goal “has been and will always be to make sure that the consumer has a great experience and that our content is well-protected."

Sweeney also said the company has not decided whether it will make programming from its other cable services -- including ABC Family, ESPN and SOAPnet -- available to the iTunes Store. “As time goes on, we’ll take a look at those opportunities for those channels and those franchises and see if the iTunes store is a place they should live, as well,” she added.

The deal will provide a major selling tool for Apple, which will roll out its new video iPod next week. The device -- which will cost $299 for 30 gigabytes of storage space or $399 for a 60-GB player -- boasts a color screen slightly larger than the current text-only screens on audio iPods.

“Disney and Apple are offering customers a new and exciting way to experience television," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a prepared statement. "To be able to download your favorite TV shows right from iTunes for just $1.99 and then watch them on your computer and iPod is revolutionary.”

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.