Small TV, Big War

The other networks' reaction to the ABC-iPod deal suggests that television is entering a frenetic period in which the industry's economics are apt to be upended. Disney's rivals are being coy about when, or if, they'll also offer shows on the iTunes store. Deborah Reif, president of NBC Universal Digital Media, says in a statement that the media giant is "having conversations with many top players." Ditto at CBS, where a spokesman says, "Obviously, we are talking to all the imaginable players about taking our content and putting it on emerging platforms."

Those platforms could include not only Apple's online rivals like RealNetworks but, as one ABC rival speculates, Sony's PSP. There are also efforts to bring video to cell phones. Apple's $1.99-per-show fee isn't written in stone, and wireless providers may charge more. On the other hand, CBS premiered its sitcom "Everybody Hates Chris" for free on Google Video.

Meanwhile some execs can't decide whether TV-to-go is healthy or harmful for the business. Deb McDermott, president of Young Broadcasting, whose stations include ABC affiliates, frets that iPod video could cannibalize the audience for "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost." At the same time, she says, if young iPodders download the shows, "it might bring them to watch it on the broadcast version." Only one thing is clear: the race is on toward ubiqui-TV.