Bloomberg is reporting that Apple is in "advanced talks" with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, owner of Fox (among many other things), to add cheaper rentals of TV episodes on iTunes. Bloomberg also claims that CBS and Disney are in similar talks with Apple. The rumor isn't new, but there are a few changes to the specifics since the last time we heard it.
According to "three people familiar with the plan," Apple wants to rent individual TV episodes for 99 cents, allowing a 48-hour window in which the episodes can be viewed. Currently, Apple sells individual episodes outright for either $1.99 (standard definition) or $2.99 (high-definition), as do competitors such as Amazon and Microsoft. Rentals are already a familiar part of the iTunes system--but at the moment, you can only rent movies.
This rental service is apparently Apple's second choice for a new approach to television, after abandoning hope for a subscription service similar to the one offered by Netflix. Content providers were said to have balked at a subscription service, concerned that such a deal would jeopardize their position with cable companies like Comcast and Verizon. And of course, cable is still the dominant platform in this country (though for how much longer is an open question).
Given this week's growing rumblings about a new Apple TV device (possibly to be called the iTV), we're inclined to give more credence to these rumors. The concept of rented TV shows is not a game-changer, but bringing them down to the cost of a single MP3 could break an important psychological barrier for consumers. Meanwhile, Kevin Rose cited "on-demand television" as part of his rumor roundup--and rented TV shows are on-demand, in a sense. The rentals almost certainly wouldn't be restricted to Apple TV, however, and would be compatible with Apple's range of portables (iPhone, iPad).
Still, this is an unconfirmed rumor--neither Apple nor News Corp would confirm the talks, and Apple hasn't announced anything on the subject yet. Don't change the channel.