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Downloads of ABC television programmes from Apple’s iTunes store have surpassed 1.5m since the service was launched three months ago, underlining consumers’ embrace of the television industry’s new forms of digital distribution.

“The [iTunes] deal has exceeded our expectations in terms of how quickly the shows have been downloaded,” said Tom Staggs, chief financial officer at Walt Disney, ABC’s parent company.

Mr Staggs added that it was “reasonable to assume” that Disney would sell its content through other platforms, provided that its partners offered a quality consumer experience, and took measures to safeguard against piracy.

Disney’s announcement in October that it would make top ABC hits, such as Desperate Housewives and Lost, available for sale on iTunes marked a milestone in the migration of broadcast television to new digital platforms. Other networks quickly followed with their own agreements to sell programmes on cable and satellite video-on-demand, the web and other platforms that give consumers greater flexibility to watch programmes when and where they want.

While downloads have exceeded ABC’s expectations, the revenue from the business remains miniscule compared to traditional television advertising. The ABC programmes sell for $1.99 apiece, some portion of which the network shares with Apple.

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