Bad news for anyone who was looking to rent the latest episode of Top Gear from iTunes, as Apple has quickly and quietly removed their 99¢ television rental option today.
The functionality has disappeared from both the Apple TV’s interface and the iTunes store proper, signalling a drastic shift in Apple’s pricing policy. Individual episodes of a series can still be bought as usual, and movie rentals still cost the same going rates, so not every iTunes customer will be weeping over the loss.
In a perfect world, this would be a not-so-subtle signal that Apple’s looking at different ways to handle television rentals. Apple’s big push into cross-device music and app sharing with iCloud could carry over, and rentals could reappear in a new form (and maybe a new price point) but with the ability to be pulled onto any iDevice for the same 48 hour period.
Alas, it’s also completely within reason that factors like mounting studio strife forced Apple to axe the rental service. Major studios have scoffed at the low price tag for iTunes episode rentals, with players like NBC Universal’s Jeff Zucker stating that such renting episode for 99¢ “devalues” their content. Rentals, to be fair, weren’t terribly well-priced for people who have cable television, but here’s hoping they live on in a new shape.