Apple iTunes makes deal with Microsoft's URGE partner for video

Posted by Scott M. Fulton, III

Cupertino (CA) - In the first clear indication that Microsoft's most recent competitive play against Apple's iTunes did not involve an exclusive partnership after all, the MTV Networks arm of Viacom announced it will be making reruns of its cable outlets' programming available for download through iTunes for Apple's usual price of $1.99 per episode.

Two of the stars whose MTV Networks shows will now be available for download from iTunes

Two of the stars whose MTV Networks shows will now be available for download from iTunes: Kirk "Sticky" Jones (Blade: The Series) and Bob "Stickier" Newhart (appearing on Sit Down Comedy with David Steinberg). (Courtesy Viacom)

The deal will make available original programming from the MTV Networks suite of cable channels, which includes MTV, Spike TV, Nick at Nite, TV Land, Logo, and The N. Apparently excluded from the deal are music videos themselves, the rights to which MTV may not own anyway, although MTV Networks' current partnership with Microsoft clearly associates the MTV brand with music videos. This morning's joint announcement with Apple acknowledges that company's availability of 9,000 music videos, but does not explicitly state MTV will be associated with them.

Perhaps the singular "get" in this deal for iTunes is the availability of "Blade: The Series," the new serialized adventures based on the Marvel Comics character. He, too, is a vampire slayer, though somewhat more buff than Buffy. On the complete opposite end of the stick will be downloads of comedy writer and director David Steinberg's talk show from TV Land, whose guests feature such less-than-buff notables as Bob Newhart and Martin Short.

What is emerging this morning is a bit of cleverness on the part of Viacom: The Microsoft deal gave it access to the MTV brand for special music video-oriented programming and programmed Internet radio stations, available exclusively through the URGE service. But that deal did not extend to MTV's slate of original programming, which includes a number of very popular Nickelodeon cartoons that have rocketed it to what some ratings sources are claiming is the #1 basic cable channel. Viacom apparently left an opening for itself, either to extend its relationship with Microsoft or to explore playing both sides of the pond.

Contrary to a Reuters report this afternoon, the terms of MTV's deal with Apple include only its slate of original programming, and not music videos or original music programming, for which even MTV's statement this morning acknowledges iTunes is already strong. Quite possibly, Apple may be perceived as getting the better end of the deal, with MTV helping to round out iTunes nearly full-featured service offerings, and URGE eventually ending up with the conspicuous absence of SpongeBob Squarepants.

The Viacom suite of cable channels no longer includes Showtime, which was ceded to the new CBS Corporation during the recent Viacom breakup from which it was created.