CBC eyes downloads GRANT ROBERTSON From Thursday's Globe and Mail U.S. networks have sold hit television shows such as Lost and Desperate Housewives to millions of viewers on Apple's iTunes website for $1.99 an episode. Now the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. is wondering whether Canadians will pay up for Don Cherry and Rick Mercer. CBC is negotiating with Google Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. on a deal that could lead to those companies distributing downloadable television content in Canada. As one of the few Canadian networks that owns the rights to much of its programming, the CBC is discussing an agreement that would see programs, including sports, distributed through Apple's iTunes store and a similar Google website. Apple, which has sold more than eight million episodes of hit TV shows since adding video content to its iTunes site in the U.S. last fall, has yet to offer the service in Canada. Google launched a competing video store south of the border that is also not available here. However, Claude Galipeau, CBC's executive director of digital services and business development, said the network may provide programming to those sites for a pending expansion in Canada. We are in discussions with Apple and Google to use those channels, Mr. Galipeau said. We consider ourselves to be pretty much ahead in this game. Mr. Galipeau would not say when such a deal might be struck with either company. Those are commercial discussions which I can't really get into. The talks come amid reports that the National Film Board is also negotiating with Apple to make more than 200 Canadian films available on iTunes, further suggesting a Canadian launch is in the works. Broadcasters such as CBC and CHUM Ltd. that own a larger percentage of their content can move faster on deals. This could pave the way for Apple and Google to set up shop in Canada. But consumer appetite for buying Canadian content on iTunes is unclear. Since U.S. hit shows are what attract major audiences, analysts say Apple and Google may not look to Canada unless they can secure distribution deals for the top American shows. In the absence of such sites, many consumers in Canada access those U.S. shows through unauthorized downloading. Ninety-five per cent of the attractive content on television, unfortunately, is owned by Americans, not Canadians, said Kaan Yigit, an analyst with Solutions Research Group in Toronto. In many cases, they might say, well, it's not attractive enough. As the business of selling TV shows on the Internet unfolds, Apple and Google have concentrated their efforts on the United States where the market is larger and more lucrative. Securing the necessary deals to distribute top U.S.-produced shows over the Internet is more difficult in Canada. Networks such as Global and CTV hold the rights to broadcast top-rated U.S. shows, but not necessarily for distributing them on the Internet. If you're dealing with Lost or Desperate Housewives and so on, those properties are cleared for the United States, but they are not cleared on those platforms for Canada, Mr.Yigit said. And how the players would divide the revenue from such downloads in Canada has not been determined. There is a whole new world of rights that has to be explored in Canada said Raja Khanna, co-founder of QuickPlay Media, a Toronto company that has deals with ESPN, CBC and CHUM to repackage shows for downloading to cellphones. The negotiations come as the CBC is bolstering its digital media operations. The network's coverage of the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, will be available to watch on cellphones for the first time, Mr. Galipeau said. In addition to watching live events, made available through some cellphone services, CBC is also making highlights packages available for download. CBC is using the Olympics as a testing ground to see how eager TV viewers are to watch the network's programming on portable devices such as cellphones and video iPods or by downloading the shows to computers. In addition to the broadcast rights for the Olympics, CBC also secured a deal that allows the network to repurpose the broadcasts for cable video on demand, Internet downloads and mobile broadcasts. Mr. Galipeau wouldn't say how much programming could be made available to Google or Apple. It is also too early to say if the CBC content would be sold on iTunes or offered for free, as CBC radio podcasts are on the music site. Since the National Hockey League holds the rights to broadcasts, the network would face significant hurdles trying to distribute NHL games.