Here's a scenario that we've encountered twice now. My wife and I love NBC's The Office. Two weeks ago, we missed it. I fired up the Apple TV, bought the episode that we missed ($2.99US) and we sat down to watch it in glorious HD. Nice, right?
Well, we could have watched it for free on Hulu. Or at NBC.com. Of course, my iMac's 20" display can't compete with my 34" TV, but "free" certainly helps lessen the disappointment of that discrepancy. It's not like that particular episode of The Office was one I'd want to own forever and ever (it was "Prince Family Paper" if you're wondering), I simply wanted to see what I had missed. And I was being penalized three bucks to do it. If only I could get a free replay on my TV.
Boxee is a service that lets you search and view content from Hulu, Netflix, ABC, CBS, Comedy Central, Last.fm, and flickr and is easily installed on an Apple TV. Frankly, that's how I'll be using it most of the time, save for movies and TV shows I absolutely want to own.
But it isn't just about money. My other issue is how I'm used to consuming media.
Let's start with music. I'm dating myself here, but when I was young and wanted to buy a song, I'd go to the record store and pick up a 45 (for you young whipper-snappers in the audience, a "45" is a kind of "record." Google is your friend), then a cassette and eventually a CD. Ultimately, I "owned" the song; not in the legal sense, but in the sense that I had an ultra-portable, physical thing that I could hold, pop into a player and enjoy just about whenever and where ever I wanted.
Plus, listening to music doesn't preclude other activities. I can just as easily hang Christmas lights on the house, drive the car, make a sandwich or weather-seal the deck while listening to music.
It's different with video. I'm accustomed to having video delivered to me by a TV, movie theater or, more recently, an iPod or iPhone. While I carry music around with me, I must plant myself in front of one of those devices to enjoy television or a movie.
Likewise, I can't do any of the above things while watching video. OK, maybe make the sandwich, but even then I'm only glancing at the screen occasionally. In other words, while I want my music available any where, any time and as a physical "thing" that I control, I'm A-OK with taking a more passive role in interacting with my video.
For years, some people have been clamoring for a subscription-based iTunes Store. While I'd never want to see music go subscription, I'd love for that to be an option for video.
If Apple charged me X amount of money per month and gave me unlimited access to their library of television and movies from any approved device, including Macs, iPhones, iPods and, of course, Apple TVs, I'd be a happy customer (of course, this would send the cable companies into a frenzy, but that's another post entirely). Yes, I want to have my music files physically on my hard disk. But if the shows and movies I want to watch all lived on a free-range server farm in Cupertino, that'd be fine with me.
I'd save a lot of disk space. There'd be nothing to sync, or forget to sync, before a vacation. I wouldn't have to cough up three bucks just to watch The Office, and and Apple would maintain its revenue stream.
Right now, the Apple TV is designed to sell content from the iTunes Store. Well, there are free ways to get much of the same content. Let me pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to the full library, and I'll do it.