I want my HBO

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Tuesday’s news that Disney plans on adding more content from its assorted broadcast and cable operations to the iTunes Music Store has got me thinking: who’s next? Surely, Disney and NBC aren’t the only media conglomerates to see the value in casting their lot with Apple’s popular online music effort. How long before other broadcast and cable networks are inking iTunes deals of their own?

More than idle speculation causes me to pose the question. Macworld Expo kicks off next week in San Francisco, and a Steve Jobs keynote just isn’t a Steve Jobs keynote without the requisite CEO cameos in which titans of industry exchange awkward handshakes with the Apple CEO as they attempt to bask in his glow. So who from the world of television might be waiting in the wings at Moscone Center next week? Rupert Murdoch ? Les Moonves ? One of the dozens of actors currently employed on the 13 versions of CSI currently being broadcast?

If I have any say in the matter—and no, I’m not quite deluded enough to think that Steve Jobs should consult me before making any public pronouncements—I hope that there’s at least one person slated to share a keynote stage with Steve Jobs next week—Chris Albrecht of the pay-cable channel HBO. And I hope that he’s there to announce that HBO shows will be making their way onto the iTunes Music Store post-haste.

Lest I be accused of rumor-mongering, Albrecht himself has raised this possibility. Last month, HBO struck a deal with Cingular to supply clip of its show to the mobile phone service. Albrecht suggested striking some similar type of arrangement with Apple, telling Reuters “At some point, I think we would have some arrangement with them.”

Such an arrangement would be a welcome development for me, and not just because it might possibly include a program called The Wire that happens to be my favorite show. (There’s also the fact that HBO airs a obscure little curiosity about mobsters that cracks my Top 10.) No, I want HBO and Apple to reach an iTunes content deal because it would mark the first time in recorded history that such a pact would actually save me money.

The way I figure it, getting HBO piped into my house costs me an extra $13 each month on my cable bill (or $156 per year, for those of you who haven’t hit F12 and done the math on Apple’s Calculator widget yet). Figuring the usual $2-per-episode fee, a 12-episode season of The Wire would cost me $24. Even if I spend another $24 for 12 episodes of The Sopranos , that’s still a $108 savings after I call my cable operator and inform them that I will no longer require HBO’s services. Which I would do in a heartbeat, if The Wire and The Sopranos ever became available for download, since I have no use for any of the rest of HBO’s programming—not the show about foul-mouthed cowboys or the one about the guy who used to be George Costanza or First Daughter or Contact or Last Action Hero or the execrable Son of the Mask or any of the other movies currently playing on assorted HBO channels as I type this sentence. Cast off movies and shows I don’t want while downloading the ones I do and saving money on top of it? Where do I sign up for that plan?

Which is probably why it will never happen. HBO employs people who probably do math much better than me, and they can figure out offering $2-per-episode downloads of certain shows is a good way to lose subscribers. So if HBO and Apple do have some sort of deal in the works, it’s possible to probable that the fee will be a little more than the $1.99 you’re paying for Knight Rider reruns. Either that, or the shows won’t be available until months after they appear on HBO. However Apple and HBO work things out in this still-theoretical deal, you can bet that it will be in a manner that keeps HBO subscribers down on the farm.

Still, we’ll have plenty of time for the cold sting of reality next week. The week before Macworld Expo is a time for dreaming, for imaging what could be announced. And if some people want to dream about Intel-powered laptops or fancy new iPods, I don’t see why I can’t wish for $2 episodes of The Wire and a lower cable TV bill.

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