Apple still messing with people's heads on video

For a company that has never been terribly friendly toward ordinary press coverage Apple has had a remarkably sophisticated media operation over the years when it suits Apple’s purposes. They’ve been masterful at winking, nodding and leaking just enough juicy bits to the fanboy sites and a few carefully selected mainstream outlets to get everybody hyped up ahead of new product announcements, often managing to turn not much into big news. But it has been outdoing itself lately in its manipulations around online video.

Apparently unsure what it wants to do itself in video, Apple seems to want to make sure no one else figures it out first.  So it’s sowing FUD about video industry initiatives by leaking “news” of purported video plans of its own that borders on vaporware.

apple-tv-2Last month, the Wall Street Journal broke the “news”of iDisney’s Keychest technology that will supposedly let consumers buy permanent access to movies and then retrieve them from the cloud using a variety of devices. “People in the entertainment industry,”  told the Journal “it would be reasonable to infer that Apple would cooperate with such an initiative.”

And The Media Wonk is telling you it’s reasonable to infer that it was Apple who told the Journal that. It is also reasonable to infer that the story’s appearance on the eve of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem discussions in Seoul was not a coincidence. Neither Apple nor iDisney are members of DECE, which is attempting to devise a system to let consumers, well, buy permanent access to movies and then retrieve them from the cloud using a variety of devices. And it’s certainly not in Apple’s interest for DECE to succeed.

But if Apple is really on-board with Keychest, it’s a fair bet the system will be limited to Apple devices, using Apple DRM. The alternative would be for Apple to design its devices to be interoperable with others, and with other online services. I’ll believe that when I see it.

Today, Apple struck again, once more in the Wall Street Journal. This time, we’re being told that Apple is shopping a plan content owners to create a $30 per month subscription video service through iTunes “if Apple is able to get enough buy-in from broadcast and cable TV programmers.”

I’m willing to bet no actual “broadcast and cable TV programmers” have really been pitched on the idea, apart from iDisney’s ABC and ESPN networks, who I’m sure were enthusiastic. And I’m also willing to bet that the timing of the trial balloon is related to Comcast’s recent announcement that it plans to rollout its On Demand Online (i.e. TV Everywhere) service to all 24 million subscribers by January. Comcast has had strong support from the pay-TV networks for its ODO trial in 5,000 homes, but a number of those networks are on the fence about whether they want to be part of the broader rollout. Hey, maybe they should see what Apple is offering before signing up with Comcast. No wonder Comcast is so anxious to buy NBC Universal. At least then it can play the same game Apple is playing. (Does it need saying that Disney has been cooler toward TV Everywhere than other pay-TV programmers and is not involved in the Comcast test?)

Everyone would be better off if Apple just figured out what it wants to do in video so the rest of the industry can get on with business.

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