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Will you pay $3--or more--for TV episodes on iTunes?

HBO becomes the first network to break the $2 per episode barrier on iTunes. But is anybody willing to pay extra for the network's shows?

Rome Season 1 DVD
How much is this worth?
Barnes & Noble

Several HBO shows debuted today on the iTunes Store, but the big news was that two of them--Rome and The Sopranos--will retail for $2.99 an episode. To date, Apple had insisted on flat pricing of $1.99 per episode of any TV show added to its download roster. Indeed, the company's refusal to allow variable pricing was said to be the primary factor in NBC pulling its vast library of shows from the digital retailer in 2007.

Blogger Dave Zatz points out two big stumbling blocks to the larger issue of TV shows on iTunes:

... it's not like you get a ton of replay value--DRM-ed content isn't easily shared (like a DVD), and you're not going to stick a 55-minute show into a playlist for repeat enjoyment like a digital song.

In other words: every penny past the impulse purchase $1.99 price point magnifies the downsides of an iTunes TV download.

So, how does the $3 per episode price stack up? The DVD set of the 12-episode first season of Rome goes for a whopping $55 on Amazon, but you can find it (today, at least) for $41 at Barnes & Noble's site. I'd happily pay that $5 premium for the disc set.

Actually, I'm lying: I wouldn't buy the DVD either. I'd just add Rome: Season One to my Netflix queue, where I'd be getting it at no extra charge beyond my monthly subscription fee. (I rewatch movies frequently, but for TV shows, once is generally enough.)

I'd love to think that these high-priced shows will fail miserably, but these premium-priced seasons of Rome and The Sopranos have already cracked the iTunes top-10 list on day one. In other words, if the trend holds, it would seem that flat pricing is as dead as the dodo. The market has spoken, and consumers are willing--happy, even--to pay $3 an episode for their favorite TV shows. Expect lots of celebrating at NBC headquarters (and elsewhere in Hollywood). Just don't be surprised when an episode of The Office costs more than a gallon of gas.

What do you think: Would you pay $3 per episode for a TV show? Or are iTunes users ruining it for the rest of us?