Apple's media strategy: There's an app for that

It’s here. After nearly a year of carefully orchestrated speculation and hype, Apple has finally unveiled: the “iPad,” thus causing millions of women across the blogosphere, in unison, to go, “eewwww.”  (Are there no women in the marketing department at Apple?)

Among the less lunationally sensitive, the verdict has been more mixed, but the rough consensus seems to be that, at this point at least, the iPad is basically an iPod Touch on growth hormones: neat, but not quite overwhelmingly amazing, fantastical and way-cool the way the iPhone seemed when it launched.

Particularly disappointing to some, or at least puzzling, was the relative scarcity of media apps at launch for a device that was billed as revolutionizing the media industry, leading many to wonder what you’re supposed to do with the thing.

I have no doubt those apps will come, however, not only because Apple has already released an iPad SDK but because of what it offers media companies. Read More »

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.

Asking the wrong questions on e-books

The New York Times published a story the other day asking,Will Books be Napsterized? It’s conclusion? Probably, now that e-book readers are going mainstream and file-hosting sites like RapidShare are making it easier than ever for people to post pirated e-books online (speaking on a network filtering panel at the Future of Music Coaltion Policy Summit in Washington on Monday, Daniel Klein of London-based cyber-security firm Detica Group gave it 12 months before RapidShare becomes the new Public Enemy No. 1 among copyright owners).

napster-logoWhile the article, written by Randall Stross, professor of business at San Jose State University, is never explicit as to what it means to be “Napsterized,” it’s pretty clear it is referring to the loss of legitimate e-book sales–and perhaps even hardcover sales–due to people downloading for free illicit electronic editions of books rather than paying for the licensed product–much as the recorded music industry has suffered a sharp decline in CD sales since the advent of Napster and other peer-to-peer file-sharing networks.

“We are seeing lots of online piracy activities across all kinds of books — pretty much every category is turning up,” said Ed McCoyd, an executive director at the [Association of American Publishers]. “What happens when 20 to 30 percent of book readers use digital as the primary mode of reading books? Piracy’s a big concern.”

[snip]

We do know that people have been helping themselves to digital music without paying. When the music industry was “Napsterized” by free file-sharing, it suffered a blow from which it hasn’t recovered. Since music sales peaked in 1999, the value of the industry’s inflation-adjusted sales in the United States, even including sales from Apple’s highly successful iTunes Music Store, has dropped by more than half, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

Read More »

Is MKV the MP3 of video?

The release of the Napster client in 1999 is seen by most in the music industry as a watershed event. It was the moment when millions of people began “trading” individual music tracks over the Internet and–in the received version of the story–stopped buying CDs. The industry’s response was, first, panic, then to attempt to get the genie back in the bottle by suing Napster and its creators Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. That led to similar suits against Friendster, Aimster, Grokster,  and any other peer-to-peer network “operator” the RIAA could identify clearly enough to serve with papers.  

napster-logoWhat had really hit the music industry, however, wasn’t P2P technology so much as the MP3 codec. The first MP3 encoder was released in 1994, and by 1995 it was being used in commercial consumer software such as WinPlay, and later WinAmp. Using MP3 compression, WinPlay users could store tracks ripped from a CD on a hard drive in files that were a fraction of their original size (a critical issue at the time given the small size of most consumer hard drives), albeit with some loss of sound quality. All Fanning had really done was to figure out a practical way to tie those hard drives together into ad hoc networks so that compressed music files could be exchanged at the relatively slow bandwidth speeds then generally available. Read More »

Is Apple about to steal a march on mobile video competitors?

Media Wonk was away over the Memorial Day weekend so I’m just catching up on some stories that broke last week. One that didn’t seem to get the attention it merited was Kwame Jones’ scoop on Open Salon that Apple appears to be readying a plan to allow movie and TV downloads directly to iPhones and iPod Touches without their first having to stop first at a desktop or laptop hard drive. Jones posted some screen shots provided by a “geeky friend” who stumbled on links to “iTunes Movies” and “iTunes TV” crawling across the top of a new ad-supported iPhone app. The screen shots captured menu and ordering screens for movies and TV shows broken out by genre, season and other features.

Ars Technica expressed some skepticism about “the story behind this one,” declaring it “highly unlikely that Apple would run ads for such a feature through a network like AdMob,” or “that Apple would create an ad like that this far in advance, knowing that non-Apple-employees have a high likelihood of seeing it.” Read More »