Early Tuesday morning, somebody at Apple's iTunes Store flicked a switch and six of HBO's most popular series became available for download for prices ranging from $1.99 to $2.99 per episode. They are:
- Sex and the City: $1.99 per episode
- The Wire: $1.99
- Deadwood: $2.99
- Flight of the Conchords: $1.99
- Rome: $2.99
- The Sopranos: $2.99
For HBO, which is making individual episodes available for the first time, it's a chance to expand viewership beyond its 30 million cable TV subscribers to Apple's broader audience of 50 million registered iTunes users.
For Apple, it's a strong signal that Steve Jobs has backed away from his stubborn insistence on flat-rate pricing -- $1.99 for TV episodes, $.99 for songs -- and is ready start a new round of deal making in Hollywood.
On May 1, Apple announced an agreement with Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox (nws), Walt Disney , Paramount , Sony and others to make movies available for iTunes download the same day they are released on DVD at two price points: $14.99 for new releases and $9.99 for older films. (see Apple's new Hollywood deal)
Could a rapprochement with NBC -- which pulled its series off iTunes last December in a dispute over flat rate pricing (see here) -- be far behind? The fact that NBC (ge) started streaming free episodes of two of its most popular shows, The Office and 30 Rock, to iPhones last week seems like a promising sign.
[UPDATE: Apple posted a press release this morning. HBO is "excited." Apple is "thrilled."]