The slow-moving struggle to unplug TV viewing from its traditional business model just got more interesting and messier.
Over the past few years, companies big and small from name brands Microsoft and Google to newcomers Roku and Boxee have tried to bridge the gap between the Internet and the TV. On Wednesday, Apple rejoined that effort.
The company unveiled a lineup of TV show episodes for rent on its iTunes Store. All rent for 99 cents and come in high-definition and without commercials.
To go with that, Apple introduced an upgraded $99 version of its Apple TV media receiver. Chief Executive Steve Jobs pitched this paperback-size black box as the simplest way to watch a la carte TV delivered via the Internet to your high-definition set.
Apple's vision is in line with that of such competitors as Amazon and the free, ad-supported viewing on websites of TV networks and Hulu.
Viewers don't have to pay for things they don't want to watch unlike the traditional programming model, in which they subscribe for a large bundle of content and then proceed to ignore most of it.
Music listeners got used to that freedom years ago, thanks to the success of music download stores. But the TV industry has been remarkably successful in resisting that transition. Apple's event showed how difficult it will be to finish that job: the company could sign up only two major networks, Fox and ABC.
In 2007, Apple could get only one major record label, EMI, to sell music without ‘digital rights management' restrictions on iTunes. But by last spring, the other labels had all agreed to dump DRM.
So Jobs' hope that other networks "will see the light" may not be unfounded.
In Exclusive Partnership with The Washington Post.