I’m now writing for SiliconAlley.com. You can see my latest article.
I’m now writing for SiliconAlley.com. You can see my latest article.
Finally consumers have choice – at least those that have the technical knowledge to take advantage. Want to get out of cable but still have cable channels plus broadcast TV? Your prescription is as follows: Apple TV, iPhone or iPad, Aereo for $8.00 month, Nimble TV for as little as $24.95 month. No contracts, you can add a virtual DVR and then simply launch a browser on your phone or tablet, login and throw the signal through the Apple TV onto your TV. The combo of Aereo + Nimble will cost no more than $32.00 a month (unless you want more than channels than the minimum) and you’ve got TV. Cable TV channels and broadcast. But more on this in another pub shortly.
(UPDATE: Aereo is on a roll, with plans now to bring its streaming TV service to Atlanta. The Atlanta launch is scheduled for June 17, the company announced Tuesday. The capital of Georgia will be the third city to get the Aereo service, following New York and, from Wednesday of this week, Boston. source: CNET. 5/15/2013
There are really some other very cool non-cable broadcast channels coming out. I’d them term them ‘off Broadway’ TV channels. Some call them online channels. But they are as good as some cable channel programming offerings and maybe some are even better.
YouTube’s rumored subscription-plan offering is now a reality. The video site is rolling out a pilot program that will allow “a small group of partners” to offer paid channels on YouTube, with subscription fees starting at $0.99 per month. Every channel has a 14-day free trial period, with many also offering discounted yearly rates. Some partners include:
The Jim Henson Company is launching an ad-free channel online with full episodes of Henson’s kids and preschool titles like Sid the Science Kid and Fraggle Rock. The channel will be available for $2.99/month or $24.99/year. The company is also launching a Spanish-language channel, which will be available for $1.99/month or $17.99/year.
Sesame Street will also offer full episodes on its paid channel when it launches.
National Geographic Kids’ channelwill be available for $3.99/month or $29.99/year, offering long and short-form videos aimed at kids ages 6-12. It will include a mix of library and original content.
Acorn TV, a streaming service focusing on British classic TV programming, is also launching with a channel that’s available for $4.99/month.
B-movie film director Roger Corman will launch a paid channel this summer called Corman’s Drive-In. It will offer more than 400 feature films that have been produced or directed by Corman. These include Grand Theft Auto (Ron Howard’s directorial debut), The Cry Baby Killer (Jack Nicholson’s first film), and Fire on the Amazon (Sandra Bullock’s first film). The channel will also serve as a potential distribution outlet for new films in production. We love Roger Corman!
UFC’s channel will feature classic fights and full versions of older UFC pay-per-view events. It’s available for $5.99/month.
Then there’s Entertainment Studios, which has launched eight paid channels on YouTube, spanning a bunch of different verticals, from cars to comedy, pets, recipes, and entertainment news/pop culture. One of the eight channels, which is titled Smart TV offers “best of” programming from the other seven networks for $9.99/month.
HuffPost Live will arrive on AXS TV, a network backed by Mark Cuban, CBS, Ryan Seacrest Media, AEG, and CAA, on May 13. The interactive streaming news network will run for six hours a day, from 10am to 4pm.
Yahoo unveiled partnerships including a brilliant the deal with NBC Entertainment and Broadway Video to become the exclusive US home to all Saturday Night Live archival content, and a similar agreement with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). This is especially key now that Seth Meyers is taking over for Jay Leno – the repeats should garner some heavy online traffic that advertisers should eat up.
The Cheap Life with Jeff Yeager, an original how-to show on AARP’s YouTube channel, has topped 1 million video views. The show focuses on providing tips on spending smart and enjoying life at a fraction of the usual cost.
And finally there is the Jerry Seinfeld show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. The meaning of something, of course, is relative. show features Seinfeld just cruising along with friends such as Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, Seinfeld co-star Michael Richards, Ricky Gervais, Alec Baldwin and Colin Quinn. That covers the comedians in cars; presumably, the getting coffee part will come a bit later. The show debuts on Crackle July 19th.
All in all I’d say online programming is growing up. The cable operators will soon take notice – more than likely too late.
Adolph Ochs in 1896 put his slogan on a newspaper, “All the News That’s Fit to Print”. It still survives. Only just barely.
Sound arrived to movies in the late twenties, the silent-film industry and the Broadway theater industry were both broadsided. They never saw it coming. It was a running joke to them.
Radio was king for years. No one thought it would be overcome – there was a radio in every home throughout America.
Then television started to gain traction in the late forties. Radio scrambled to adjust to the newer media – TV. Then, TV began to replace the radio in homes. Orders for TV sets were up 400 percent in 1949, many of them sold by the most popular shows of their time, (i.e. Milton Berle). Supply could not keep up with demand. Free television was for decades considered an American right, rabbit ears, ghosts and all.
Then broadcast TV scrambled to adjust to newer media – cable TV. For a while during the reign of ‘Free TV’, “Pay TV” was a joke. Americans now pay for 24/7 foreign news networks in their cable and satellite packages, news, weather, sports, movies, etc. That which used to be free on broadcast TV was no longer free.
Then the hammer dropped for everyone. The Internet dawned, the digital revolution. The Holy Grail of media. This was a change as great as the invention of electricity and the construction of transcontinental railroad. It was large, transformative and caused massively sweeping changes. No one was prescient enough to gauge even remotely how big this change was upon the whole planet.
The recording industry became the first to fall in the digital pipeline. They thought by suing Napster in court they could stop their declining bottom line. Movies and DVD’s became next to fall in.
And then 2 large social media behemoths came along; Facebook (2004) the more social of the two and Twitter (2006) the most current up-to-the-minute form of news delivered to us not by a news anchor but by a neighbor. Twitter made CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX ancient delivery mechanisms of news overnight. We don’t select publications anymore, we select links.
An ecosystem of “group journalism” in which consumers with a cell phone eyewitness reporting of the news submitted by ‘US’ rather than actual reporters in the field, changed everything. Witness Captain Sully on the Hudson river. The proliferation of the Internet made every publicly available source of information in the world openly available to everyone. This change in and of itself has altered the landscape for everyone forever. The NYT’s and CNN no longer have a lock on exclusive. Exclusive is old news – we are now the prevailing ‘exclusive’.
Within all of this history of media, the largest companies, the ones we can name by brand have been caught sleeping by transformative change. From newspapers and magazines to Hollywood, aging media executives resistant to technology became overnight ostriches. It was easier to take a paycheck, stick their heads in the sand then risk being ‘wrong’ about how future technology could transform their own business. Status quo was ‘safe’ harbor. A herd of dinosaurs.
The decline and the fall of old media. It was inevitable and unavoidable. Casualties were and are in print, TV and soon cable channels. Yes, even cable TV will be falling (cord cutting: Aereo TV and Otoy). Old media will scramble to adjust just as before, but it will not be enough. The fall of old media is unavoidable.
And for us the consumer, the ‘hippie’ stage (freemium) of the Internet is over. We will pay for more for media then ever before – not in print but whatever form it comes in. The trees will love us once again. However, the cost for this will be higher than it once was. What is less talked about are the adjustments that consumers have to make. Paying for media that was free or easy to access is now the norm.
And still only 65% of the country has broadband Internet access. What Google fiber offers is just a beginning and will become the norm. Google fiber speeds will knock cable TV off its legs. We wont need coaxial cable – just access to the Internet. And it won’t have to be coming from the white coaxial cable coming into your home – it will be wireless. TV channels will be become specific apps downloaded on a phone or tablet. Bundles will be forgotten. The ‘triple play’ of a phone, cable and the internet that we all familiar with for $ 150.-200 a month will soon be broken down.
Perhaps even the app store will disappear too. The potential disruptiveness of Otoy (http://goo.gl/aQZSl ), as a breakthrough streaming service could, in the near future, could end the need for app stores and computer upgrades.
Advertising will never ever again subsidize any old-media news organizations in the style to which they (and their audiences) have been accustomed.
News organizations used to be able to overcharge and under-deliver in their deals with advertisers; the pizza place and the car dealership had nowhere else to go, and no one knew how many people saw, or acted on, a given ad anyway. Not anymore. Nielsen, one of the old guards struggles to stay relevant – even if they purport to have new measuring technology. There are at least the 10 other companies who are in the process of eating their lunch.
We are in for years of re-adjustment. Transformation from print and paper to digital – cable TV to Internet TV, YouTube, social apps and the like. Consumer adjustment will take time. But less than you think. Our kids are growing up ignoring cable and television, without radio and traditional print media. The norm: downloading of apps, mobile phones, tablets and no desktop computers. It’s different and disconcerting for the parents. It’s happened before – it just happened without the Internet. How we used to do things in the seventies, eighties, and nineties is no more – change is good. Breath in – breath out.
Its been a while since my last post – I’ve been consumed at my work ( which I have been really enjoying) . However, I felt compelled today to write a bit about algorithms and sensors, which are creating some GREAT services now and even better in the near future. We are watching web 3.0 ‘blossom’ right now. Here is what I mean.
Ever since I’ve gotten my hands on Apple’s new iPhone 4Gs and Siri, my mind has never been the same. Not that Siri is the end all and be all. It has its drawbacks and in fairness, Apple has always and still does call it a ‘beta’.
But the mere presence and interaction I’ve had with Siri signaled something new to me on the internet was really happening – and in a very subtle but meaningful way.
Siri is learning – yes, she really does learn. “Artificial Intelligence” – no one seems to think that the machines are actually intelligent, but they can certainly do a lot of things that used to be hard for computers. Clearly Siri is an ‘AI’ that is programmed to adapt in certain ways and modify its behavior according to how I or what I would request of Siri. Fascinating really.
The real thing to keep your eye on here is that sensors plus big data algorithms are leading us from today’s world where content considered king to one where content is simply one component of a service. Content is becoming secondary and the service and platform primary. There never used to be 13 different ways to rent’ the same movie before. Content is becoming commoditized. When Siri was first introduced, its creators called it a “do engine.” that is, rather than retrieving a web page (media) that you consume to make a decision, it just does things for you. “Find me a restaurant near here.” “Make me a reservation.” Media will become part of a database back end rather than a media front end.
Some examples of sensory algorithms that in effect build a network-mediated global mind are (this is really us, just augmented):
– Mobile cell devices -we are augmented with cellphone cameras (electronic sensors again), the ability of events to become a shared experience is has become vastly increased and more so now with social media connects.
– Smart Parking Meters – In the city of San Francisco, you’re seeing something similar, where all the parking meters are equipped with sensors, and pricing varies by time of day, and ultimately by demand. In effect an “algorithmic regulation” – they regulate in the same way our body regulates itself, autonomically and unconsciously.
– Predictive AdWords -Google’s Adwords were always more effective than competitors because Google was better at learning from human input – instead of selling ads to the highest bidder as competitors such as Yahoo did, they used machine learning algorithms to predict which ads were more likely to be clicked on. They might choose an advertiser who only wanted to pay half as much if their ad was 3 times as likely to be clicked. Google was the first to harness the collective intelligence of their users to improve ad results. Just like the social media platforms we use to disseminate events and other digerati it’s important to understand just how much this is man-machine symbiosis.
– Large connected networks – it could be Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or G+, but any one of them connects to most of us somewhere at some point. The massive sharing of data and thoughts, the crowd-sourcing of opinion and the collective conclusions we draw are all kept and logged, improved upon and progressively mature and evolve. Here and on these massive giants, nothing stays the same for very long. The mere platforms themselves have spawned other interconnected platforms like Zynga.
The Internet as a whole is a mirror image of us – a thriving interconnected network. It improves with knowledge and data and learns 24/7. It’s the community that creates content. Its about how you engage people and who you engage, not the number of followers. It’s about the collective impact we make together. The Internet is an architecture of participation, interconnected, open source and open protocols. It really is our global brain. Look at the ‘picture’ of the network. It is no coincidence that it looks the way it does.
Google also thinks about this. Their key business model depends on the success of others – driving traffic to their sites, and producing ad results. Google only does well if their partners do well.
Contrast this with how the dwindling and toxic financial firms, who once positioned themselves as the enabler of the economy, creating liquidity and trading on behalf of clients, began to trade against them, and increasingly created products – from the mortgage backed loans that brought down the global economy to even more reprehensible trading practices that have driven up the cost of food for starving millions and was directly responsible for not only our economic collapse, but the ripple effects that are being felt worldwide. This is capitalism gone wrong. Occupy Wall Street’s fundamentals are not incorrect.
In the end, a company is most successful when it makes all of its stakeholders successful, not just its shareholders – a good example of this is Apple.
Which brings me back to algorithms and sensors. Soon, Apple will release an API for Siri. Many businesses’ that can use it will use it and the revolution will progress in earnest. As Siri learns what I do the most on my mobile device, she will also begin to learn my doctor’s and dentist’s name, the nearest hospital to me and map, my grocery list and cost and what I’ve run out of in my house, the type of movies I watch and music I listen to and where to find the content. In short, Siri will make my life a little more convenient and predictive. It will combine my habits with my surfing activities on the Internet and will suggest based on location where to buy items that interest me conveniently and cost-effectively based on my location.
Just think of the services that will come…H.G. Wells would have had a blast.
Amazon’s Cloud Drive, Google’s BetaMusic, iTunes upcoming ‘cloud’ offering, current subscription based music ‘cloud’ services and music ‘lockers’ ( eMusic, Spotify, Rhapsody, Thumbplay Music, mSpot, MP3Tunes, and others) are all similar in many ways.
There are slight differences in the cost and the amount of storage for free that you get initially. After that, users will find the old fashioned way we now store and playback music might in fact have been the best and most cost efficient after all.
Today, we all have mp3’s or m4p’s (iTunes) stored somewhere on our computers or in an external hard drive or both. We have our iPod and other devices to playback these files. Load up a playlist and take them with you. Soon, the above mentioned services will offer us the ability to ship all or some of our music collection to what effectively is a hard drive outside our house or computer – essentially letting them live ‘over there’ or wherever that service lives, be it Amazon, Google or Apple. Load up a playlist and playback the music just as we do now.
A few things will change however that will drastically alter not how or what we listen to but what it will cost us to listen to what we now playback for free. And the changes are subtle but substantial. And these changes are all designed to generate money, a lot of it, for 3 separate entities; the music cloud service of your choice, the music companies and your local ISP.
What has been an essentially free activity for all of us (creating and playing back music on our device of choice locally), will now very quickly become an expensive one, remotely. The change has been slowly evolving – with the ISP’s like Comcast, Time-Warner and others that supply us leading the way. They have all decided to ‘cap’ and meter our bandwidth usage under various tiered plans. Just like we get our water and electricity usage metered, so will our ‘internet’ usage.
And that’s old news – I’m not telling you anything you have not already heard before. Soon, we will keenly be aware of how much data we will be using monthly. And now, the new music ‘cloud’ offerings will present us with tiered pricing plans to store our music monthly as well. You might have 10 gigs of music (which is NOT a heck of a lot, personally) today that you want to store on Google’s Beta Music Cloud Drive ( they are just being used as one example). For me, I’ve got a ton more than that and I add to that monthly. So initially, I’ll choose a plan for 10 gigs, but I am 100% sure over time, I will eventually double that.
In addition to those charges I want to turn on my ‘cloud’ player and listen to some tunes being played back at my home, through my PC piped into my speakers in the house. Well that used to be free when I loaded up my player locally on my PC. Now with my house being metered, here’s a rough idea of what I could be faced with.
1GB streamed per month = a little more than half an hour of music per day
3GB streamed per month = about 2 hours of music per day
5GB streamed per month = about 3.1 hours of music per day
For music aficionados, that is not a lot of time spent listening to my music. Now mind you, I don’t have to use a cloud service to listen locally – I can continue doing what I do now. But that also means I’ve got to keep a duplicate set of files. And it does not include any bandwidth for any other activities on the Internet during the month I engage in. If you have a iPhone or other device that plays back music, sure you can stream your collection from that same cloud service, but wait, there’s a data cap on your phone too. But wait, there’s more. The new Chrome notebook offers a plan too when you are NOT connected to WiFi – and it’s not cheap:
• Free 100MB per month (what you get with the first two years of ownership under the current plan): 1 hour and 45 minutes of music playback for an entire month
• $10 for an unlimited day pass: listen all day
• $20 for 1GB of data in a given month: a little over half hour of music per day
• $35 for 3GB of data in a given month: nearly two hours of music per day
• $50 for 5GB of data in a given month: a little over three hours of music per day
All of this cost and metering does not include monthly cloud ‘subscription’ costs. Put it all together and you might be looking at some heavy fees every month that you don’t currently pay storing and playing back your music collection locally or playing back on the road through your iPhone, etc.
Now I am a big cloud advocate – there are some big advantages clearly in storing your collection outside of your house. The biggest single advantage I can think of is a disaster – and they DO happen. Replacing a 60gig collection is not only time consuming and expensive but just go and try to remember what was in your collection of say 40,000 songs – good luck! This alone is reason enough to consider storing your collection remotely. Other disadvantages include getting the songs up there to start and you don’t want to move the collection once you are there. Ever try moving 60gigs quickly – there is no quickly. So choose your service very carefully!
While all of these new music services sound great and offer us new and improved ways to listen to our music, I can’t help wondering if one day a few years back the ISP’s and the music industry got together in one big Hotel room and figured this out as a way to get back all of the lost revenue that the ‘Napster’, ‘Kaaza’ and ‘Limewire’ era sucked out of them. Maybe they will get the last laugh after all. Here’s a better one – how would a Netflix for example, replicate a ‘cloud’ locker storage scenario for movies I might purchase? Could it? Just think of THAT cloud storage plan!! Ouch!
G.E.’s decision to sell NBC Universal reflects the shifts in fortune that are battering the media business, especially network television. The broadcast division of NBC Universal could lose big, a remarkable downturn for a network that had earned roughly $400 million in past years.
Problem: the Internet has fractured audiences and few viable business models have emerged for the distribution of content online.
What the new Comcast venture looks like: Comcast will contribute its own cable channels, which include Versus, the Golf Channel and the E Entertainment channel, and a modest amount of cash, about $5 billion, to a joint venture in which it will own 51 percent. G.E. will retain a 49 percent stake, and would likely reduce its ownership over several years and in theory, Comcast-NBC Universal will be a company separate from Comcast’s cable assets.
Some interesting possibilities could be:
It could use its power in film, with Universal Studios, to expand video-on-demand offerings by altering movie release windows to make movies available on demand the same day they are released on DVD.
It could use its power in film, with Universal Studios, to expand video-on-demand offerings by altering movie release windows to make movies available on demand the same day they are released on DVD to all active basic cable subscribers that buy HBO and SHOWTIME or purchase at least 1 on-demand film per month.
Buying Netflix: Stream movies through this service coupling subscription on cable with certain consumer benefits through Netflix, i.e. day and date with DVD or perhaps even a scheme to stream films just released in theaters 1 time only to ‘frequent flyers’ or renters of the service, but at a big ticket price on-demand.
But here is the real reason why Comcast is buying NBC: TV Everywhere. “TV Everywhere” model, which promises to give their subscribers exactly what they want: anytime, anywhere access to any TV content. They have to do this to keep their customer bases and compete. In a TV Everywhere world, the role of the multi-system operator is diminished. Your cable or satellite TV provider will no longer be your only (legal) means of watching the current episode of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. In a TV Everywhere world, Curb Your Enthusiasm will be available on literally thousands of websites and mobile apps, as long as you can authenticate yourself as a paying cable or satellite subscriber with the HBO package. Comcast risks becoming a “dumb pipe,” providing little more than bandwidth. To avoid that fate, Comcast recognizes that it needs to move upstream and own or control the content itself, thus NBC/Uni. More to the point, a consumer COULD elect to turn off his cable basic subscription and turn around and subscribe to TVE thereby allowing him to see his basic cable channels but on his PC, phone etc. Now that Comcast owns content and some of those channels it can monetize the consumer whether or not they subscribe to the cable in the house or not.
In a TV Everywhere world, it will be a terribly crowded space, with a ton of noise and websites with similar content. The sites that perform best will be the ones that create the best user experience for viewing TV content – and right now, that’s Hulu ( and who knows, maybe Clicker ?). If Comcast buys NBC, Comcast will own about 1/3 of Hulu, providing an ideal launching pad for TV Everywhere it has a very passionate and loyal audience.
This online world is a very splintered and exceedingly difficult to measure, especially when you are asked to sell advertising against the content. The real problem is a lack of tools to properly bring the right economy of scale to online which equates to buying media in a traditional way. Therefore, instead of trying to monetize a cable channel online one by one, with TVE, you can monetize the whole package in a similar way that cable already is monetized. Its a structure already understood by the consumer now. Bundle a bunch of cable channels for a small monthly fee and let consumers have access to them everywhere, including home or NOT.
The Internet while very big, does not yet command the equivalent kind of media rates and fees that Cable or Network gets today. No agreed upon means of measurement exists to give advertisers a definitive ‘rate card’ for the internet. There is no Nielsen for the web, (yet, although it was announced yesterday by Nielsen that eventually, there will be). comScore, even though they do a great job with data can’t extrapolate the data to equate to viewers ‘watching a TV set’. Making the comparison when placing an ad on a video online and the same ad on TV impossible to compare TODAY. Hulu streamed 855 million video stream last month. What does that really mean? Did all 855m viewers who watched those streams watch ALL of each stream or were many of them counted as they ‘surfed’ through Hulu clicking on various videos for a few minutes or even seconds – were they counted among the 855m? What does 855m stream equate to in Nielsen ratings/eyeballs? Does anyone really know? Nielsen despite its shortcomings has some measurable statistics for this, but its still not apples to apples.
Furthermore, Hulu still has a long way to go to prove it can monetize its audience as effectively as its parent companies can do with programs viewed on-air. Why? Its uniques are flat. Hulu’s uniques are scarcely better than they were 6 months ago. Unless the unique number jumps in the coming months (which I doubt it will), Hulu will have to meaningfully enhance its value proposition to grow its audience (can you say “Hulu to-the-TV-via-Xbox/Roku/Apple TV/etc?”) says Will Richmond of Videonuze (Nov 30th 2009). He goes on to ask “What happens to Fox’s programs on Hulu should Rupert Murdoch expand his focus beyond his newspapers’ online content going premium? What if Disney decides to launch its own subscription services? What if Google or Microsoft or Netflix (or someone else) decides to open their wallet and make a bigger play in premium online video?” And, these questions become somewhat less mysterious now that Comcast has bought NBC/Universal.TV will NEVER be the same again.
Comcast chart above courtesy of VideoNuze.com
Posted via email from williamsager’s posterous
And the music labels thought that the seas of music are calmer these days? Hoping to re-napster themselves and capture licensed music in a bottle this time around, the very core of the labels music is leaking and the ship might never really leave the store. The vast majority of music revenue is generated from its catalog. It sells way more than the current fare released on itunes, etc. ENTER: The copyright monster.
Word on the street is
Hulu will be putting out a free iPhone app very soon that streams full length TV shows using 3G and WiFi. And any hopes of AT&T charging for TV flew out the window. Guess Apple will be sucking wind about charging all of us now through iTunes to watch the same things. Wonder what that will do to iTunes sales of these shows. My hunch is not too much and if anything will make more fans and will increase ratings. Why? Why do I say that giving away ‘Lost’ won’t cause a loss of
sales of the same at iTunes? Because, if you are really a rabid ‘Lost’ fan, you will want to own it anyway, whether you get to watch last night’s season finale or not. Giving it away for free (and on a very small screen) only whets the appetite of those that might decide to sample the show using the app. Come ‘on everyone, haven’t you all
heard of piracy? Well, this is simply ‘legal’ . Have you ever heard of the WWF? (or WWE today). They still give away wrestling on TV daily on TBS and charge $ 39.99 or more for essentially the same show on PPV. It seems like someone in Hollywood may finally be seeing the light.
A very good article from Rob Griffiths at Macworld. Its worth reading because he’s on the money here. Furthermore, what he does not mention is that a lot of the piracy actually stems from the employees at the studios themselves releasing DVD screeners out onto the web.
As a consumer of audio and video in many forms—CDs, DVDs, and online purchases—I find it interesting to watch as the various media businesses adjust to life in a digital world. On the music side of the world, it seems that (slowly but surely) they’re starting to “get it.” Consumers don’t like to be hassled by digital rights management (DRM), they want to pay a fair price, and they want to use their music on devices they own without worrying about format, rights, or permissions issues.
For the longest time, the music industry insisted on copy protection for online music sales, even though (higher quality) CD versions of that same music were (generally) shipped without any form of copy protection.
So at first, everything you bought from the (then) iTunes Music Store was protected by FairPlay, Apple’s generous (but still restrictive) DRM solution.
In June of 2007, though, the first chinks in the DRM armor appeared, with Apple and EMI announcing iTunes Plus, DRM-free music at higher bit rates for $1.29 per song, versus the 99 cents per song for the FairPlay-protected versions.
Then, in September 2007, Amazon launched its own MP3 download service. Unlike the iTunes Store at the time, music in the Amazon MP3 store was (and remains) completely free of DRM. As a consumer, I was intrigued, and tried it out. While the Amazon MP3 store can’t rival the rich experience you get in the iTunes Store, it’s not a bad solution, and its download tool automatically adds my purchases to iTunes.
Finally, to put the proverbial nail in the DRM coffin, Phil Schiller announced at this year’s Macworld Expo that the iTunes Store was going DRM free—at the expense of Apple’s one-price-fits-all strategy. Over the next few months, the entire 10-million-strong iTunes Store music catalog will migrate to DRM-free versions (at higher bit rates)—Apple claims that more than 80 percent of iTunes music is available now in iTunes Plus format.
As a music consumer, I’m thrilled with this—no more do I need to carefully manage my authorizations for music playback amongst the various machines I use. I can burn anything I want, back up my songs without having to re-rip them, and generally not think about what happens to my music if the iTunes Store ever vanishes. With one click of a button, I can upgrade my entire library and be done with DRM…in theory, at least. (Of course, there are some issues with the upgrade plan, but it’s still better than DRM-encoded music.)
So it seems, finally, the music industry gets it. Given the chance, consumers will pay a reasonable price for unprotected, high quality music that they can use as they wish. Unfortunately, the video industry hasn’t yet apparently seen even a flicker of such enlightenment in the distance. You can see evidence of their confusion all over the iTunes Store, starting with iTunes Plus.
iTunes Plus applies only to music in the iTunes Store, not to video (or audiobooks, for that matter). So while my music will be “free,” I’ll still be messing with authorizations for the video content I purchase from the iTunes Store. That’s unfortunate, and strange, given that the large size of movie files means they’re typically harder for consumers to distribute than relatively small music files.
Beyond iTunes Plus, you can see more confusion in the handling of high definition (HD) content on the iTunes Store.
You can, for instance, purchase a TV series in HD and watch it on your Mac or Apple TV…but you can’t purchase an HD movie at all, and you can only rent them on an Apple TV, not a Mac. Why? What’s different about an HD TV series and an HD movie?
From my chair at least, nothing. I know, behind the scenes, they’re controlled by two very different entities, but as a consumer, such things shouldn’t matter. When I want to purchase HD content, I want to be able to use it on whatever device I wish, and transfer it easily between all such devices I own. The current model is just completely confusing, and makes no sense.
It really makes no sense when you consider that the video industry is taking these protective steps against those who are probably least likely to steal their content—consumers who have decided to purchase through the iTunes Store. We’ve made a conscious decision to buy our audio and video through the iTunes Store, and yet the video industry treats us as though we’re all pirates foaming at the mouth, ready to upload our freshly-purchased content to every pirate server in the known universe.
One way to really alienate your customers is to treat them all like thieves and criminals. (I’m not sure the music industry has fully learned this lesson either, given some of the RIAA’s tactics…but at least record companies are making strides on DRM.)
If I want to steal a movie, there are many ways to do so quickly and easily, as seen in the image at right. Using Tropic Thunder, the movie in my sample image above, it took all of one Google search to find literally dozens of different versions of the film, with varying levels of quality and features.
Quite ironically, a stolen movie is actually easier for the consumer to use than a legitimately-purchased copy of the same movie. A stolen movie won’t be DRM-protected, may be encoded at a higher bit rate (better quality) than a purchased version, and can be easily played on any device capable of playing back video. Why is it that pirates are rewarded for their actions, while legitimate consumers are punished and treated as if they are pirates? By making it difficult for honest consumers to purchase and use their products, the video industry may be encouraging the very behavior they seek to stop.
My final annoyance with the video industry and the iTunes Store has to do with the pricing of TV series—another behavior that may drive otherwise honest consumers to take dishonest actions. The new season of 24 started recently, and for better or worse, it’s a series I enjoy watching. Given how much time I spend in front of the machine, however, I thought that maybe I’d purchase the 24 Season 7 HD season pass from the iTunes Store.
Then I saw the cost, a whopping $68, and changed my plans. Nearly $70 for something that has no physical media, would be very difficult to resell (is it even possible?), and is encumbered by DRM! You can’t even burn it to a DVD for use away from a computer or Apple TV (even the non-HD version is expensive, at $45, and non-burnable, like all iTunes Store videos). So I’d be paying $70 for basically nothing more than the right to watch the video on my Mac, iPhone (non-HD, of course), or Apple TV. (Even old versions of TV series are outrageously priced—the seven-year-old 24 Season 1 (non-HD) is still $40!)
As it turns out, I can actually watch 24 for free (and legally) on Fox’s Web site—and in full-screen mode, the video looks quite nice even on my 23-inch LCD. Sure, it’s not available on all my devices, but if what I really want to do is watch something on my Mac, free sure beats $70.
If I really want 24 on all my devices, and I find the $70 to be a huge burden, another quick trip to Google finds that all four episodes of the new 24 season are readily available online. Legal? Not even close. A tempting alternative for those who aren’t able to afford $70, or perhaps live outside the geographically-restricted area where they could buy 24 even if they wanted to? You bet.
So by pricing the season at a somewhat ridiculous price point, Fox has not only lost a sale, but has probably encouraged people who would otherwise give it money to go find alternative solutions. For me, I would’ve gladly paid about $30 to $35 for the season pass—the ability to watch on any device would be nice, and I’d love to feel like I’m supporting the series.
Instead, I’ve chosen to do what I’ve done the prior years—record 24 on my Tivo, and then watch it (skipping commercials) on the big screen. Not as convenient as having it available everywhere, but $70 is simply well past my cutoff point for a convenience cost.
Some shows get it, it seems. You can buy 16 30-minute episodes of The Daily Show for $10, or about $1.78 per hour of entertainment. Contrast that with 24, which will cost you $3.80 per hour (I’m using the actual show lengths here, i.e. 21 minutes or so for The Daily Show and 44 minutes for 24). But The Daily Show is an exception; current seasons of most TV series seem priced to dissuade purchase, rather than to encourage purchase.
I firmly believe that if the prices were to be halved, volume would increase dramatically—and it’s not like there’s much direct cost in producing the downloadable version of an already-filmed TV show, so almost all the money the studios would earn through increased volume would be profit (less what they must pay out in commissions, of course). So why are they asking such outrageous sums for current (and non-current) TV series?
Hopefully the video industry will see what the music industry has done and take steps to adjust its rules on HD content, its stance on DRM, and its pricing policies. As things stand now, however, video producers are treating their customers like thieves, and encouraging them to find alternative solutions that are less costly, unencumbered by DRM, and more agreeably priced. Some alternatives are legal, others are not…but no amount of protection on iTunes Store videos is going to change that fact. Pirates will pirate, and the current iTunes Store video rules hurt only those who seek to legitimately purchase their content.