New iPod and iTunes movie downloads – is the TV party over?

A few months back I wrote a post asking whether Apple were coming to the BitTorrent party and when iTunes Movie Store might open. It now has.

This, it seemed to me (and it wasn’t a particularly hard prediction – I was hardly alone on this), was the obvious answer to the Hollywood bleating about piracy. Make it easy, make it cheap. Make sure the “I can’t be bothered, it’s easier using iTunes” factor kicked in and allow people to buy episodes of TV and movies rather than pirate them. I suggested a price point of $3-4 per DVD. So the $1.99 per video still seems a bit steep given that you might get four or five episodes on a DVD of a series.

This, of course, is one in a continuing series of nails in the TV networks’ coffins as mentioned previously in relation to Mark Pesce’s riffs on the death of TV. So, what’s the difference? Put simple, Apple is a massive brand and they make things easy. Just in time for Christmas too. Obviously this is now in direct competition with the PSP, but Sony have made it relatively expensive and/or difficult to get commercial movies onto your PSP. I haven’t read the tech specs on the iTunes videos though, there is sure to be some annoying DRM going on though.

What is perhaps more exciting is the prospect of being able to share your own content online, an easy way to publish your movies for people to take with them. The short film/animation longtail is a massive untapped market for the mobile scene. Sure, a few phones can carry clips, but none of them have the grace and capacity of the iPod, not to mention the market penetration.

I’m still unconvinced by everything being on one device for the simple reason that no device is perfect at everything. I like separate devices still and, whilst there is an overlap in functionality, it’s useful to be able to choose (not to mention several batteries being better than one).

6 Replies

  • Yeah, interesting, but not that interesting today – video files have the usual iTunes DRM (no big deal really) but it’s the quality – 320×240? That’s rubbish! With the new iPod’s TV connector or watching them on the new Media Center style iMac, that’s going to look pretty poor. For 2 bucks? And I thought it was Apple’s “year of Hi-Def” too.


  • Yes, that’s true. I still think that the figure is probably too high per episode, but I imagine that’s where the networks were able to be cajoled into it.

    The other thing here though, and my main point, is the ease with which iTunes makes it happen. Of course most of use more geeky folk have been able to download stuff with relative ease, using RSS, etc. But let’s face it, most BitTorrent clients are still pig-ugly and too complex. Once my Mum and Dad can download their TV of choice, then we’ll be getting somewhere.

    The last point is that it enables you to take it with you a la Podcasts. I’m still unconvinced by TV-on-the-move myself, I think it’s a different kind of attention to music, which you can listen to whilst doing other stuff. But then again, the idea of pulling it onto my laptop appeals.

  • Your’re forgetting that it is ‘advertising’ that runs the TV business and iTunes doesn’t carry the ads (yet)… If TV was really threatened, you’d see the content from them dry up pretty quick.

  • I’m not forgetting that (and check out the Mark Pesce article for more on this). The point is that at present the networks bring the audience, the producers and the advertisers together and that’s what pays for the production. What happens if the advertisers pay for production directly and the audience is aggregated by some other means (i.e., iTunes, RSS, etc.)? It’s not that TV is going to die, but rather that the role of the networks will radically change.

    The other thing you’re forgetting is that, in general, people don’t pay for TV (cable is more about choice and the Internet has plenty of choice), except in the UK, which is one of the reasons the BBC can afford to experiment so much with these emerging technologies. iTunes has a billing structure – so the content gets paid for. All those $1.99 purchases might add up to an awful lot of money. That in itself can massively contribute to production of content.

  • I must say I really like the video quality of my new video iPod – but haven’t tried it on a regular TV set yet as I couldnt get a hold of the AV cable. The easy-to-be-distributed aspect for user-generated content will outweigh the allegedly meager video fidelity and we will all be surprised with what people put up with (see MP3), if the setting of consumption pleases them (while communting e.g.).

  • Yes, I agree. I suspect portability and ease of download and distribution (the latter of those in particular) will make all the difference, which was really the point of the post and Mark Pesce’s line.

    A friend of mine found the quality excellent on her laptop incidentally. TV is actually pretty crappy resolution and even a half size MPEG1 looks not so bad on an interlaced screen.

    For the HD addicts, there’s still BitTorrent, and let’s face it, it’s still a bleeding edge market.

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