iTunes Pushes HD

In a press release earlier this month, Apple touted the fact that it has HD versions of popular network TV shows available for sale on its iTunes service. Here are shows offered in HD on iTunes by four major networks:

ABC:
“Brothers & Sisters”
“Desperate Housewives”
“Dirty Sexy Money”
“Eli Stone”
“Grey’s Anatomy”
“Life on Mars”
“Lost”
“Private Practice”
“Samantha Who?”
“Ugly Betty”

CBS:
“CSI”
“CSI: Miami”
“CSI: New York”
“NCIS”
“Numb3rs”

FOX:
“Bones”
“House”
“Prison Break”
“Sons of Anarchy”

NBC:
“30 Rock”
“Heroes”
“Kath & Kim”
“Knight Rider”
“Law & Order: SVU”
“Life”
“Lipstick Jungle”
“My Own Worst Enemy”
“The Office”

Other HD shows include the SCI FI Channel’s “Battlestar Galactica” and “Eureka,” and USA Network’s “In Plain Sight,” “Monk,” “Psych,” and “The Starter Wife.”

How big a deal are downloadable HD television episodes on iTunes? After all, anyone with a TiVo can grab them and watch them when they want. According to Apple, more than 1 million HD episodes were downloaded in the first month that they were offered. And keep in mind that iTunes has sold more than 200 million standard definition episodes since it started selling the shows.

Are people willing to pay money to download television shows that they could watch for free over the air (or as part of their cable or satellite service)? It is clear that they are doing just that. Does this mean that viewer purchases (or subscriptions) represent a viable business model to pay for the production and distribution of this content? That’s not as clear at this point, because the iTunes sales are just a tiny portion of the revenue stream that is dominated by broadcast advertising. Still, it’s an interesting start, and one worth tracking.