So did Apple cave, or did NBC bend?

Among the many announcements at the Apple event earlier today, including new Nanos and headphones and colours and the Genius auto-playlist feature — all of which was obsessively live-blogged and Twittered by legions of bloggers — came the news that NBC shows had returned to the iTunes store, many of them in high-definition. It was almost a year ago now that the network pulled its content out of Apple’s grip, saying the company was too inflexible on price and other things, and started putting it up at Amazon and its own Hulu site, while Apple spread the word that NBC had wanted to boost prices.

So who gave in? From the sounds of it, both sides got their punches in: NBC gets to charge more for HD shows, but will also sell some of its older shows for less than the $1.99 price that Apple applies to virtually everything. As a piece at CNET notes, Apple also gave in to the demands of the movie networks earlier this year, and allowed them to set multiple prices for movie downloads. Will the music labels try to use these signs of weakness to get Steve to bend on album and song pricing?

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Jeff Zucker tries the “Sam Zell” gambit

According to an interview with NBC supremo Jeff Zucker — as reported by Variety magazine on its website today — the TV network hasn’t been happy with its iTunes deal for a number of reasons, including the fact that Apple wouldn’t let it experiment with differential pricing. But the real howler in the piece comes when Zucker huffs that the computer company refused the network’s request for a cut of Apple’s hardware sales:

“Apple sold millions of dollars worth of hardware off the back of our content and made a lot of money,” Zucker said. “They did not want to share in what they were making off the hardware.”

This, of course, is known as the “Sam Zell” strategy, in honour of the real-estate billionaire who attempted to argue that Google should pay newspaper’s a cut of its revenue because Google News carries excerpts from newspaper stories. Could Jeff Zucker seriously believe that Apple owes NBC a cut of hardware sales because iTunes carries some NBC shows?

He might as well argue that Google deserves a cut of the PC revenue that Hewlett-Packard and Dell generate, because so many people use their computers to go to Google’s website. What a maroon.

Update:

Not content with whining about Apple not paying a portion of its hardware revenue to NBC, Zucker also apparently said that the computer maker “destroyed the music business” in terms of pricing and threatens to do the same with video. Translation: Man, I wish we could get away with charging $40 for a DVD full of “deleted scenes” from Facts of Life.

It’s Hulu vs. Brightcove, not YouTube

So Hulu, the joint venture between NBC and News Corp. that some thought would be a YouTube competitor, has sort of launched — or at least it has given some of the chosen few in Silicon Valley a look at the service. As far as I can tell from most descriptions of it, it sounds like a video-distribution network that will compete more with Brightcove and other similar video services than it will with YouTube.

In other words, it has nothing to do with “user-generated content” or people uploading video — it’s all about network content from NBC and News Corp., distributed through a Flash player that can be embedded on other sites and will be white-labeled to partners such as AOL and MySpace. Still, the early impressions seem positive; even Kara Swisher seems to like it, and so does MG Siegler at ParisLemon.

To the extent that NBC and News Corp. are getting the idea that distributing your content by any means available is a good thing, I think Hulu is a positive step. But as Mark Hendrickson points out at TechCrunch, this is still very much a TV-centric model — that is, shows and content appear and disappear based on the TV schedule. It may be flashy and well-designed, but I wonder whether it will be compelling enough to really draw people in.

Further reading:

Henry Blodget at Silicon Alley Insider has a nice rundown of the things that make Hulu less thrilling than it appears, and one of those things is the restrictions on the content that Hulu distributes. And Liz Gannes has more on that angle as well — as she puts it:

“Hulu can’t avoid the trappings of big media. The company is tied up in a contradictory situation, where it’s chartered to have web-wide distribution while trying to maintain tight control over the user experience wherever it goes.”

PaidContent has a nice overview of the launch as well, including the $100-million investment by Providence Partners.

Google serious about video? You bet

There are likely to be some long faces at NBC this week. The network — which has gotten plenty of attention this year for its ambitious embrace of Web distribution and its decision to play nice with YouTube, also known as the “Lazy Sunday” effect — has lost Michael Steib, the senior executive that has been steering its new broadband initiatives. And where is Mr. Steib off to? Why, Google, of course.

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PaidContent broke the news first, noting that Steib was the general manager of strategic ventures for NBC Universal, and the guy who founded and was responsible for NBBC — or the National Broadband Broadcasting Co., the unit that the network launched in September after watching the viral success of the Lazy Sunday video clip from Saturday Night Live a year ago.

From the sounds of it, Steib is going to be working on “monetizing” Google Video and YouTube by creating some sort of ad program. “We are pleased to have Michael Steib join the Google team to help us work with advertisers to create effective, measurable video advertising,” a Google spokesman told MediaPost. Will it be pre-roll ads? Post-roll? Pop-ups? Ashkan says Google wants to create AdSense for video.