Apple hopes to offer 99-cent TV rentals

Apple is reportedly in talks with major television networks over a deal to provide TV shows through iTunes.

According to Bloomberg, it’s close to a deal with Fox subsidiary News Corp and Walt Disney, which owns ABC. It’s also talking to NBC, CBS and Time Warner. Walt Disney is likely to be a definite sign-up, as Steve Jobs is its biggest shareholder.

Under the proposals, shows could be rented for as little as 99 cents an episode for 48 hours; currently they can only be bought, at prices between $1.99 and $2.99. Only movies are currently available for purchase.

They’d be free of advertising, and available within 24 hours of broadcast on any device that can access iTunes.

The deal could pose a threat to Amazon and Netflix, which offer online video streaming. But the plans would also see iTunes competing  with Hulu. This may be one of the big sticking points for the networks, as News Corp and Disney already provide TV content to Hulu, which is a joint venture with NBC.

Apple is planning an event in September at which it’s widely expected to announce improvements to the Apple TV set-top box, giving it a new user interface and shifting to the iOS operating system.

The new version – tipped to cost $99 – is also likely to be cloud-based and include streamed media. Bloomberg suggests that the iTunes deal could be announced at the same time.

If the TV rental deals work out, it could be a big boost for Apple TV. First launched in 2007, it’s been described by Steven Jobs as a bit of a hobby in the past.