Choice and the future of televison

the mixing desk. More than a year after Apple released the Apple TV in this country, they’ve now announced that they are starting to offer shows here. Sure, we’ve been basking in the glory of having video podcasts, music videos and family photo albums flickering away in the lounge, but it’s only now that we’re able to sample TV on the Apple.. er TV. Now the local Apple ecosystem is nearly complete – we have a store in Sydney to buy the box from, an iTunes with local content to put on the box and, soon enough, a phone to take it traveling. But do we want to be locked into Apple video ecosystem, where iTunes sits as the gatekeeper to purchased content?

Of course, meanwhile, as tends to happen with things, the punters out there have devised ways to watch whatever they like on their set-top box (I mean, they’re acting like they own the thing). To have a broadband connection, an interweb stuffed full of video and a box plugged into your TV that won’t play any of it never really made sense to a lot of people.

Still, here we are. ABC (US), our Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Nine Network, Disney Channel and MTV have all offered up shows at $2.99 an episode. The pricing is pretty much as anticipated, although there doesn’t seem to be any discount when compared to the DVD equivalent even though the consumer is effectively paying for the distribution of the content. But good on the participating networks for getting it out there (is Ten still pretending to have a cohesive idea of what to do in this space?)

I do wonder how each studio/network’s pricing strategy is going to play out over the next couple of years. Our ABC already offers shows like the Gruen Transfer and Good Game for free download on their site and also from within iTunes (in podcasts). And if you point your iPhone to http://m.nbc.com/iphone/fullepisodes.shtml, you can stream exactly what the URL implies. These shows have ads embedded so their “freeness” is debatable. The pricing of TV content on mobile devices in this country is a whole other story. And then there’s 20 odd Foxtel channels for $4.99 on a Virgin Blue trip from Melbourne to Sydney. How does that stack up in the increasingly complex pricing matrix? I can at least see how additional convenience may have a price to (I want it now and I’m on the street, I want it now and I’m 10,000 feet in the air). But the ABC iTunes examples are simply freebies. I hope that lasts…

With so many ways to buy digital video, I’d love to see someone make an application that acts as a broker between commercial providers and the consumer. I can imagine sitting down and selecting “Alan Partridge, Series 2, Episode 4″ and then being offered up a comparison of (legal) providers, degrees of high-defness, price, with/without advertising etc and the ability to ‘watch now’. Simple. This kind of price transparency would be bound to make the lives of network content buyers hell. But if app could sit above the various arrangements for video rights that already exist, and still adhere to the terms and conditions within.

Of course, as in the search world, if one company achieves market dominance in providing a way to navigate to everyone else’s content, there are bound to be pay-for-prominence models and other distractions to relevance that begin to slip into the experience. But if it starts with busting open the value chain and offering a more customer-centric experience and real arbitrage.. that can’t be all bad.

UPDATE: Another layer to the economics: iiNet takes iTunes downloads ‘off the clock’ with this deal, with some exceptions.

UPDATE 2: if the range and pricing on the Australian iTunes store gives you the irrates, you can always open a US account and source a iTunes Gift Card.

RFID: fashion meets function

RFID Fashion meets Function
Pingmag in Japan has picked up on some aesthetically intriguing RFID forms at a recent RFID expo. The chip pictured is cunningly embedded in a school uniform to keep an digital eye on where the students might be smoking at any given time. Others look more like seating plans for the Starship Enterprise. Either way, we can expect to see (or not) more of these embedded in every day objects soon.

More at Pingmag.

iPhone Citysense

Of one of my favourite iPhone apps demoed today at WWDC was Sense Networks’ Citysense (even though it’s already been on show on Blackberry during June).

Citysense analyzes massive amounts of aggregate, anonymous location data in real-time. Macrosense is already being used by business people for things like selecting store locations and understanding retail demand. Citysense, on the other hand, provides live heatmaps of the city that show whether the city is busier than normal and where there are unusually high levels of activity. Could be useful if you’re in Melbourne and considering moving nightspots before the 2am lockout. Or if you’re visiting a place for the first time it would be great to see where people with similar tastes as yourself are hanging out.

Citysense is really just a test for Sense Networks in trying to see what kinds of consumer-facing applications might take advantage of their network (they term this one “Nightlife enhancing”). Although some people may not feel comfortable about having their movements tracked across the city, it’s fascinating to think of what this could offer (as they say) anonymously – mood by location, length of visitation (urban stickiness) or mob-based street games. This capability is not really all that new but iPhone mania may offer enough installs to make the data interesting.

Magnetism

Recently in a client workshop, my very clever friend Pat brought up a concept that has stuck in my mind since – the notion of an experience’s magnetism. In the context of the our chat, we were talking about content that attracts other content (ie. quality content begets interaction.. makes sense). But it’s also a lot more than that.

When you think about draws people to an online destination, it’s increasingly some form of digital word-of-mouth. Of course online media spend, brand building and cross-medium promotions are also huge factors. But when you drill down into what makes people feel inclined to pass something on, you can start to see how this can contribute to its magnetism.

One of the working definitions I’ve always used for Web 2.0 is that I see the term as referring to an experience where “it’s tangibly better for any one person if more people use it”. This means that it’s in someone’s best interests, on a purely selfish level, to get others involved. This is different from simply passing something on so that the recipient thinks you’re hip/informed/younger-than-you-really-are. On the surface you might think that some interactions don’t really need this kind of trait, like online banking or looking up a phone number. These would seem to be pretty dry, functional ways of using the web, yeah? Well consider the work that Wesabe is doing in sharing financial experiences to the benefit of everyone. Or how Skydeck is looking to pull the intelligence out of every phone call you make and show relationships within your address book.

This is not really about Web 2.0, it’s simply about strategic and creative experience definition. What’s it’s it going to be that adds digital ‘magnetism’ to your brand’s next project? What is it about the content that makes it beg to be added to? And what’s going to make its users hold up a magnet and draw their friends in?