NBC Universal and Walt Disney-ABC TV Group said Wednesday that they would jointly make available their quirky hospital comedy "Scrubs" on Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes store and share the revenue.
Although "Scrubs" is produced and owned by Walt Disney Co.'s Touchstone Television, this season's episodes will be available on NBC's "storefront" on the iTunes site because NBC broadcasts the show.
The move, which comes as networks race to profit from digital downloads of their popular programs, is significant because it marks the first time two rival media companies have joined together in a digital download deal.
It also underscores how television economics are changing in response to new technologies. For decades, TV production studios have tightly controlled program uses, including the number of times a network could run an episode, to protect the studio's lucrative syndication revenue.
The NBC-Disney deal also marks an important truce in the behind-the-scenes battles between studios and network executives over who should control the "window" for digital downloads of their shows.
Touchstone and CBS Corp., for example, have been squabbling over next-day downloads of CBS' adventure series "The Amazing Race," which is co-produced by Touchstone. CBS contends that networks should share in the profit because they invest in building awareness and promoting the programs.
Until "Scrubs," all of the TV shows offered on iTunes have been those that a single company owns and broadcasts. For example, Touchstone produces "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" and airs them on ABC.
"Hopefully, this will open the door to make available more shows that we don't own," said Jeff Zucker, chief executive of NBC Universal Television Group. "We all produce shows for other networks, we all cross-pollenate each other, so hopefully this will become the model going forward."
Touchstone President Mark Pedowitz added that "Scrubs" should appeal to iTunes users because of its popularity among 18- to 34-year-old men.
"We thought it was the right show to go out with," he said.