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Apple to piggyback on DVDs to distribute digital content?

Is Apple taking its digital downloads to physical media? Possibly.

Starting next week, a DVD you buy off the shelf could end up coming with a free or markedly discounted digital copy from the iTunes Media Store. The Unofficial Apple Weblog got the scoop from a reader who got an early delivery of the upcoming Family Guy DVD, which comes bundled with a digital download that can be transferred to your iTunes library. When a copy of the digital file to iTunes was attempted, the user got an error message noting that the process requires version 7.6 of iTunes, which is currently at 7.5.

Like movies purchased on the iTunes Media Store, digital copies found on optical media appear to be tied down via DRM. In this case, it's the use of a serial number that gets plugged in and authorized by iTunes. The DVD in question comes from Fox, which has had a similar process in place for other DVDs, although in the past it's used the now-defunct PlaysForSure DRM, which was created by Microsoft.

Besides movie files, piggybacking other content on DVDs could be Apple's next move towards establishing the longevity of iTunes. Studios could still retain their online distribution on iTunes, while offering the consumer a chance at extra pieces of content in the future or a quick link to the movie's soundtrack on iTunes. This is also the first hint of what Apple might be unveiling at next week's Macworld Expo. While the big draw of the show may be the expected hardware upgrades, long-rumored movie rental service, and a demonstration of the official iPhone SDK, this might have just blown the surprise of the "one more thing" we're all curious about.