Have you ever heard a paradigm shift? It makes a little clicking noise, and it's happened three times in the past four years.
The first came with the introduction of the iPod — four years ago this week, in fact. Though the original iPods were horrendously overpriced, and cursed with woefully brief battery life, they successfully changed the way we carry our tunes. Yes, there were other MP3 players on the market, but none had as much storage or as much style as Apple's little white box.
The second came with the introduction of the iTunes Music Store 18 months later. It wasn't the first way to obtain digitized music files online, and it certainly wasn't the cheapest — it was just the best. Oh, and the most legal. The iTMS currently offers over 2 million songs and 9,000 audio books. It may not have every song ever recorded (they're still sorting things out with the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, most notably) but it's the best place to start looking. Additionally, Internet radio found a welcome ally, as iTMS created a directory of online broadcasters, allowing listeners to find specialized streaming content at the click of a mouse. Radio stations and record stores started to look obsolete.
The third paradigm shift came a couple of weeks ago. Not surprisingly, Apple was behind this one, too. At a special news conference, Apple's iCEO, Steve Jobs, announced the release of a new iPod that can play video. Industry analysts and Mac geeks needed towels to clean themselves off after that news, but in truth, that wasn't the big deal. The PlayStation Portable, which has been out for months now, already has on-the-go video capability, along with a much larger screen. Watching music videos on a tiny 2.5" screen may be okay for some, and kudos to Apple for keeping the price point down, but really, the video iPod isn't that great.
What's great — insanely great, to use one of Jobs' old catchphrases — is the content being made available for those new iPods.
At the same news conference, Jobs announced that Apple's iTunes software, and the iTunes Music Store, were both getting upgrades...to allow for downloading video. What's more, Apple had negotiated with ABC and the Disney Channel to offer downloads of the top shows on each network — "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" from ABC, and "That's So Raven" from Disney, among others — for a mere $1.99. Missed last season on "Lost" and want to catch up? No problem; download all of last season for $35 — less than the cost of the DVD set.
While only mildly trumpeted by the media (the iPod got most of the attention), this limited collection of offerings is the true star of Apple's resynched media hub. It may not be apparent yet, but it will be. Soon. Like gangbusters. Follow my suppositions, here.
I don't watch much television. I think it's a vacuous waste of time, unless I'm trying to keep myself awake during my weekly overnight shift, in which case I soak up everything Food Network has to offer. Nothing says "WAKE UP!" like hearing Alton Brown scream as Iron Chef Batali tosses crawfish into an ice cream maker. Outside of that one night a week, I watch "Lost" and "Veronica Mars." When "Battlestar Galactica" and "24" resume in January, I'll pick those up again, too. That's it.
Thing is, with a toddler and an infant, both of whom go to bed at the height of prime time, I can't watch these shows when they're actually on. Despite living within city limits, our TV reception is lousy to boot, and I'm too cheap to shell out for cable just for the sake of a clear picture. I'm not gonna shell out for TiVo when I have bad reception, and I can't deal with remembering to set up the VCR. (Besides, "Veronica Mars" and "Lost" are on at the same time, so I can't tape 'em both!)
So for more than a year now, I've been downloading my TV shows. I've got BitTorrent installed on my computer, so now, a few hours after a new episode airs, I do an online search for someone who's been generous enough to digitize the file, and I download it, sharing the bandwidth to distribute the show to all the other people out there in the same predicament I am. Is it legal? Well...let's just say I tend to rationalize it as thousands of people sharing the same guy's videotape...simultaneously.
But it can take several hours to download an episode. And sometimes I've grabbed a file, only to have the video and audio go out of sync after only a few minutes...which is really annoying. But now, at least for one show, I have an alternative. I can download a reliable, network-approved, wholly-legal file from Apple.
So I did. I snagged last week's "Lost" from iTMS. Coughed up my $1.99 and clicked "Download now." In less than an hour, I had the episode. The picture was digitally crisp, the audio perfectly synched. I enlarged the window to fill my full 19" monitor and it still looked good (well, not so much at only a foot away, but I don't sit that close to the screen anyway). My only regret is that because the file was scaled to fit an iPod's meager screen, I had to watch the episode in the lowly 4:3 proportion. Most of the files I've downloaded over BitTorrent are HDTV-ready and in full-blown wide-screen size. Beyond that, I was delighted.
What does this mean? I haven't seen stats yet on how many people have downloaded music videos, or television shows, or even any of the Pixar cartoons available on iTMS. As I write this, the video portion of the site has only been active for a week, and the video-capable iPods are only just reaching the hands of eager consumers. But it was reported that by the first weekend following Jobs' news conference that both NBC and Warner Brothers (that's The WB, y'all) were in discussion with Apple about getting their networks' content available at iTMS. (Of course, you know the porn industry is all over this; they know they won't get iTMS exposure, but they're sure as hell gonna snatch a piece of this action.) Network executives are looking at the success of Apple's media ventures, and the ubiquity of the iPod, and they don't want to get caught out.
In fact, the network suits have already started preparing for this next generation of media delivery. As more and more people get TiVo, regular commercials have become casualties of evolution. Since the magic box strips everything but the show, the networks have begun shifting to product placement as an alternative. This is a trend likely to continue and expand. As commercial television loses its marketability, the networks are going to lose revenue. The pennies-on-the-dollar they'll get from downloads is something, but it's not enough to offset what they'd lose if advertisers have no audience to whom to hawk their products.
It doesn't particularly matter if the video iPod is a success or not. It's a niche product. I bought an iPod Photo because I thought it would be cool to upload pictures to it and carry a digital brag book. I don't have any pictures on it at all, yet, and I've had the thing for six months. If you want to dump videos onto your new iPod, that's great, but are you really gonna watch the the Black-Eyed Peas jumping around while you're pumping it on the Stairmaster? Or watch all 43 minutes of a "Desperate Housewives" episode while you're sitting on the bus? No, but you can download all this stuff to your iPod or iMac and use the video out port to push it all to your TV set. People with TiVo already know where this is headed. Except now you won't even have to get your TiVo to record stuff; it's already recorded. All you have to do is save it to your hard drive. Any wonder the new iMac (also announced at this same news conference) comes with a remote control?
What it boils down to is this: with iTMS, Apple legitimized the Internet as a music distribution point; over half a billion songs downloaded later, it shows no signs of slowing down. They're doing the exact same thing now with video, and there's no reason to expect anything other than success. The existing online trade of network (and cable) shows is huge, and it's hardly mainstream. Apple has made it accessible to anyone, and as easy as point and click. As a few other networks join — and they can't afford not to — they will pull the industry along with them, and the nation, once again, will follow. Television will fade into obsolescence, another media dinosaur smitten by the digital age.
And that is a paradigm shift.
If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
10.24.05 @ 10:38a
I'm - I'm just overwhelmed. There's no way I can keep up with all the twists and turns of the mad tech world.
10.24.05 @ 10:40a
How annoying is it gonna be to shop at the grocery store and see some ass watching Lost or Desperate Housewives? Worse than hearing them talk to Ma about all the cute shit their kid did today? GO HOME LOSER!
Apple looked cool 4 years ago, mainly because Jobs bilked the un-Microsoft appoach with the new Macs. But then they went completely M$ with their proprietary trappings. They used the Gates strategy of marketing other peoples' ideas, that is the .mp3, wrapping it up and offering the desperate music industry a shot at controlling it. But that's all it was, the RIAA's fear of losing control of distro. Now Apple has Disney, a conglomerate desperate to play ball, providing some content for download. But Apple is in a huge brawl with Warner, who is threatening to pull out of iTunes. And Warner is one of the many heads of the AOL/TW monster, which owns cable tv infrastructure, cable stations, movie houses, music, magazines, etc. That's right, the same guys that defended their own 100-year old media distribution empire by throttling titanic AOL, who bought them specifically to digitize their content and put it on the net. (Ironically, AOL is another company that took someone elses ideas, the Internet, and branded as their own to great initial success but is now failing.)
So I'm not so sure this 'ends' broadcast anymore than AOL did. It makes a change, it is somewhat revolutionary, but it will primarily effect people who buy or already have compatible IPODs/ITMS-compatible players. But, like AOL, M$ and the others like Sun, unless their gadgets are as ubiquitous as the TV, it's just another option, another alternative branding and distribution of something readily available by other means.
10.24.05 @ 10:41a
"Nothing says 'WAKE UP!' like hearing Alton Brown scream as Iron Chef Batali tosses crawfish into an ice cream maker."
Word. I often turn on the television to fall asleep to, and the Food Network is not on the list of options. I think they run Emeril Live at midnight... not the most relaxing of shows, either.
Thanks for being the tech reporter on the scene, man. I had no idea legal TV downloads were out there already.
10.24.05 @ 1:42p
Actually, Dan, anyone who has iTunes and QuickTime installed on their computer can watch the videos. iTunes runs on Mac OR Windows. iTunes software is FREE for either platform. QuickTime is also FREE for either platform. Just as with music, you don't need an iPod to receive and use content. Just a computer. Practically the only mandatory piece of hardware required to push this stuff to your TV is a video card with a line-out jack.
10.24.05 @ 2:57p
Yeah, but Quicktime asks me to upgrade to PRO every time I run it...
How much was a video? What was the quality?
10.24.05 @ 3:09p
So upgrade to Pro. You know you wanna.
Sixth paragraph, directly to the left: "a mere $1.99." The WSJ (and I don't know if it's a Walter Mossberg review) is pooh-poohing the concept, and saying their downloaded copy took an "unacceptable" 43 minutes to download and the resulting video, when launched, had jaggies.
That hasn't been my experience. The episode of "Lost" that I downloaded *did* take that amount of time — around 45 minutes — but guess what -- that's shorter than the HOUR it would take to videotape or TiVo the thing! I also enlarged the file (an MP4 file, if you're curious) and it only got blurry at full-screen dimensions.
10.25.05 @ 9:12a
Yeah, I'll probably end up getting a Mac (for the rugrats of course!) and commandeer it from time to time for my own media needs. "Who spent 75 dollars on ITUNES? HUH? Oh...Nevermind..."
10.25.05 @ 6:10p
The game's afoot. Reported today: "ABC plans to increase the number of television shows available for viewing on wireless and mobile devices early next year, Albert Chang, executive vice president of digital media for the Disney ABC Television Group told a mobile entertainment conference in San Diego Monday. Thus far, only three ABC shows have been made available for day-after downloading, Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Night Stalker, but Chang indicated that efforts are underway to negotiate rights clearances from musicians, actors, writers, and others for shows that Disney does not produce itself. "Now when we know a show will be good, we negotiate ahead of time to clear distribution on all platforms," he said. Chang told the website TechWeb, "We expect our mobile video subscriber business to reach 14 million in 2009, up from about 200,000 today." Meanwhile, Disney said on Monday that it plans to relaunch its Movies.com site today (Tuesday) with additional editorial content but without the feature films it originally planned to deliver online."
11.1.05 @ 1:37p
Ah, some statistics at last: In the past 20 days, announced Apple on Monday, users have purchased more than one million videos from iTMS.
“Selling one million videos in less than 20 days strongly suggests there is a market for legal video downloads,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “Our next challenge is to broaden our content offerings, so that customers can enjoy watching more videos on their computers and new iPods.”
11.2.05 @ 10:59a
Our next challenge is to broaden our content offerings
Exactly. Like I said, they have post-Eisner Disney/ABC stuff, but Time Warner and Sony? Not so sure.
11.2.05 @ 1:23p
They're thinking hard about it, let's put it that way:
In an interview with [Wednesday's] Los Angeles Times, NBC Universal Chairman Bob Wright said, "Apple's success certainly reinforces the view that there is a demand out there... How big? It's too soon to say. But it's for real, and it's going to be with us for a long time."
11.6.05 @ 10:50a
And here it is: IPORN!
Now I gotta get me one of these things.
11.23.05 @ 2:08p
Read today, courtesy of IMDb's Studio Briefing:
"Want to watch the original Playhouse 90 version of a Paddy Chayefsky drama from the early 50s? The episode of I Love Lucy when Lucy is rushed to the hospital to deliver Little Ricky? Edward R. Murrow's interview with Groucho Marx? The early soap-opera performances of your favorite actors? The premiere of All in the Family? The premiere of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation? All of this could become possible if talks between CBS and Google, the Internet search engine, pan out. CBS Chairman Les Moonves told Reuters on Tuesday that the network and Google are presently discussing "video search" and a way to deliver video on demand. It was recently reported that CBS Digital President Larry Kramer was in talks with Apple about distributing programs via its iTunes website."
12.6.05 @ 4:55p
NBC has just signed on:
NBC Universal has inked a deal with Apple Computer Inc. to become the second network to sell television shows a la carte on Apple's online iTunes store, the companies announced Tuesday.
More than 300 episodes from about a dozen prime time, cable, late-night and classic TV shows are now available for $1.99 apiece, viewable on computers or downloadable on the latest, video-capable iPod.
The programming spans from the 1950s to the present, including shows from "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Dragnet," USA Network's "Monk," the Sci-Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica," and NBC's hit series "Law & Order." Sketches from "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" are also for sale.
5.9.06 @ 9:37a
FOX has just signed on:
Hit television shows from Fox Entertainment Group were added to the iTunes Music Store on Monday. Shows from the Fox, FX, Speed, Fuel TV and 20th Century Fox Television library are available beginning today for $1.99 per episode.
With its entry on iTunes, Fox becomes the largest network debut to date, the companies said. Fox has added 16 series including “24,” “Prison Break” and “The Shield.”
Other shows include comedies, including FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and FOX’s “Stacked;” reality series, including FOX’s “Unan1mous,” FX’s “Black. White,” and “30 Days;” and favorites from the 20th Century Fox Television library, including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly” and “Lost in Space.”
Right now it's just Season One of Buffy, but more is promised.
9.12.06 @ 3:11p
ITEM! Apple has just doubled the resolution on their downloadable video from the iTunes Store to 640x480. No more squinty!
ITEM! You can now download feature films from iTunes. New releases are $12.99, older titles are $9.99. Currently the studios participating are (no surprise) Disney, Pixar, Touchstone and Miramax.
ITEM! Previewed today was iTV, Apple's wireless video streaming system to get video from your computer to your TV. Available starting next year.