Canadian iTunes store adds U.S. prime-time shows

pple Inc.’s Canadian iTunes store on Thursday added a host of U.S. Television shows for download that were previously unavailable, effectively removing a barrier that was a source of frustration for consumers north of the border.

Episodes of popular American television shows from studios ABC, NBC, Fox and Warner Bros., including Lost, 24 and 30 Rock are now available on the iTunes store.

Single episodes in standard definition cost $2.49, while high-definition episodes cost $3.49. A full season of a program in standard definition is $49.99, while seasons in high-definition cost $69.99. As with other media downloadable from iTunes, the videos will play on PCs or Mac computers, as well as on an iPod, iPhone or on a television with the aid of an Apple TV set-top box.

The Canadian iTunes store first began adding television content in December 2007 and last summer added movie content, but the store has been hobbled in its offerings compared to the U.S. iTunes store, with the most popular prime-time American programs unavailable.

Simon Atkins, a spokesperson on behalf of Apple, would not comment on the reason for the sudden addition of new programming.

But Apple is facing increasing pressure in both Canada and the United States from other industry players eager to grab a piece of the on-demand video market.

Cable companies are already offering video-on-demand and time-shifting, personal video recorder options to keep customers, and Rogers Communications announced earlier this year it would be launching a broadband video portal to bring a video-on-demand service to the internet.

Television networks are also experimenting with making broadcasts available online as streaming, rather than downloadable, video. Last year CTV and ABC announced a deal that would allow CTV to stream full episodes of ABC series such as Lost and Grey’s Anatomy about a month after their initial broadcast.

In the United States, many of the large networks have teamed up on the video streaming site Hulu, but because of rights disputes the service is unavailable to Canadians unless they make an effort to fool the site into thinking they are ordering the service from the U.S. — a process that involves masking their internet protocol address.

As well, YouTube has begun hosting video streamed content from studios such as ABC, but again, that content is not currently available in Canada.

Apple is also not the only Canadian competitor in the downloadable video marketplace. Last May, Bell Canada launched its own Bell Video store, while Microsoft in 2007 launched downloadable movie rentals over Xbox Live, the online component of its video game console.

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