Apple, after sales of its first Internet-connected set-top never took off, on Wednesday launched a revamped $99 version of the device geared around streaming rentals, with 99-cent TV shows -- available from ABC, ABC Family, Fox, Disney Channel and BBC America -- and access to Netflix's streaming-video service.
Consumers "want Hollywood movies and TV shows whenever they want them," CEO Steve Jobs said at the company's event in San Francisco. "They don't want amateur hour. They want professional content."
The new Apple TV, set to ship before the end of September, also will provide rentals of first-run movies for $4.99. A list of the movies and shows available for rental was not immediately available; however, Jobs showed a clip from Fox's Glee in his presentation.
Apple said it will offer "thousands" of commercial-free HD episodes -- currently available only to customers in the U.S. -- and more than 7,000 movies (with more than 3,400 in HD), with most releases available the day after they are available on DVD.
Last month Apple was widely reported to have been close to landing deals with News Corp. and Walt Disney Co. to provide 48-hour rentals of their TV shows within one day of broadcast.
Currently, Apple's iTunes Store offers many episodes of TV shows for purchase, typically priced at $1.99 each.
"When we put our shows on iTunes five years ago, it was revolutionary," Disney/ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney said in a statement. "Since then, we've continued to provide viewers with innovative new ways to access our programming, and today we're proud to team with Apple on a rental option for fans of our shows."
Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos said in a statement, "We've enjoyed a long and valuable relationship with Apple and we're excited to be working with them over the next several months to explore this innovative offering."
While currently only Disney, News Corp. and BBC America are providing content, "we think the rest of the studios will see the light and get on board with us," Jobs said.
Last year Apple attempted to acquire content for a monthly subscription plan for popular TV shows -- floating a $30 per month price point -- but reportedly faced resistance to that idea from programmers.
The new Apple TV, roughly 4 inches square, is about one-fourth the size of the previous generation of Apple TVs, which carried a list price most recently of $229. Originally the Apple TV was priced at $299.
The new device, which unlike its predecessor does not have a hard drive, will stream iTunes music and videos, YouTube videos, Flickr photos and podcasts from a computer, and will be able to stream video from devices with Apple's iOS, such as the iPad.
Apple TV requires an 802.11b/g/n wireless network or Ethernet network, as well as a broadband Internet connection. The iTunes TV show rentals and Netflix service are available only in the U.S., while the iTunes movies rentals are available only in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Apple first began shipping the set-tops in March 2007, letting users play movies, TV shows and music purchased through iTunes as well as access YouTube videos and photos. Apple hasn't disclosed how many it has sold but Jobs has in the past referred to the set-top product as a "hobby" and Wednesday acknowledged it was not a huge hit.
Earlier this week, Roku -- the Internet set-top startup spun off from Netflix -- cut the prices on its devices, with the HD version with 802.11b/g now selling for $69.99 (versus $99.99 previously) and the HD XR with support for 802.11n and a USB port at $99.99 (down from $129.99). Roku's box was the first device to provide access to Netflix's streaming service.
Also Wednesday, Apple announced Ping, a social networking service that plugs into the upgraded version 10 of the iTunes software; an upgraded version of the iPod Touch, with cameras and the "retina" screen featured on the iPhone 4; a smaller version of the iPod nano music player with a touchscreen; an iPod shuffle for $49, available in five colors; and bug fixes for the iPhone 4 and 3G.
According to Apple, the company has sold more than 275 million iPods to date. Through iTunes, customers have purchased 11.7 billion songs, 450 million TV episodes and 100 million movies.
Separately, Amazon.com is supposedly trying to put together a monthly video-rental service that would compete with Netflix's Internet streaming capability, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and Bloomberg.
So far Amazon has approached Time Warner Inc., CBS, Viacom and NBC Universal to license content for a subscription service that would be accessible via PCs, Internet-connected TV sets, Blu-ray Disc players and Microsoft's Xbox 360 video-game console, according to the reports, which cited anonymous sources.