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 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.