A Plot Spoiler for Apple?

Hollywood studios have been making plans for digital distribution of their films left and right, but Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iTunes has been conspicuously absent from the proceedings. Perhaps not for too much longer, though -- Lions Gate (NYSE: LGF  ) has spilled the beans, at least by confirming that deals are in the works.

In Lions Gate's earnings-related conference call (catch up with its latest quarter here), CEO Jon Feltheimer revealed some interesting information in the pep-talk segment of the call, according to my copy of the transcript: "We also have digital delivery deals with CinemaNow, Movielink, and iTunes, with upcoming announcements with at least two more industry players."

Say what? We know for sure that movie studios like Lions Gate have been signing on with Cinema Now and Movielink (and even file-sharing site BitTorrent). But the progress of Apple's talks with movie studios has remained in the realm of rumor and innuendo, although there was no doubt something's been going on. (Same goes with (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) , although there were more rumblings about that yesterday.)

Lions Gate President Steve Beeks said the content should be available on iTunes by the end of the calendar year, adding, "We know when they are planning on launching, but since they have not announced it publicly, I don't think it is our place to say anything more about that."

Obviously, Lions Gate said enough to be very interesting, although again, rumors had already been flying that Apple would release some kind of movie service on iTunes by year's end anyway. Also interesting, though, was the tidbit about the two other major industry players that have been talking to Lions Gate. It's hard not to wonder whether one is; one blogger theorized that another suspect could be Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) .

Notoriously secretive Apple head Steve Jobs probably isn't too happy about the leak, but the truth is, Apple fans (and shareholders) are probably relieved to hear of more signs that the company is that much closer to adding movies to iTunes. After all, considering that Apple was a first mover in legal music downloading through iTunes, its deafening silence in the last few months' emerging market for digitally distributed movies made it look like Apple was falling behind the times.

For related Fool content, check out the following stories:

  • More rumors of digital movies through Amazon surfaced recently.
  • Take a closer look at Lions Gate's quarterly earnings.
  • Apple's had a slow burn when it came to negotiating with Hollywood. is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendation. Microsoft is aMotley Fool Inside Valuerecommendation. Try out these or any of our other Foolish newsletters free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

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