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Mass-media mess-up: NBC doesn't get the iTunes store

Nik Fletcher

Within the last week, news that Apple and NBC had failed to renew their agreement for TV show distribution via the iTunes Store is undoubtedly big news. An NBC Universal spokesman has been quoted by the New York Times as claiming that the iTunes Store's raison d'etre "[The iTunes Store] is designed to drive sales of Apple devices at the expense of those who create the content that make these devices worth buying." In some regards, it is a fair point: Apple needs content to offer so as to allow it to continue marketing and developing new iPods.

But at what price? Setting a price at resale, or retail for that matter, and then raising it is not only unreasonable, but generally not accepted by us, the paying customer. In an age where we routinely put up with the demands of the networks and labels, and their interesting ideas on DRM, in order to legitimately obtain content online the prices that Apple touted as NBC's preference are simply unacceptable. Sure, variable pricing sounds fair, in theory, but cynics of NBC's supposed "variable pricing" (I include myself in this group) argue that giving the network carte blanche with pricing would not, in fact, lead to any cheaper content - such is the distrust held against the media companies.

Let's face it, Apple is a corporation whose intentions are to continue growing stinking rich with a video playing device. Apple is also dominant in areas of digital media thanks to the iTunes Store and certainly existing vendors and content providers should be wary of allowing themselves to lose vast swathes of influence within a new distribution channel. What NBC Universal fails to realize is this: Apple isn't the enemy. That's right, NBC may indeed want to raise the price of content - and let's face it, when 30% of all iTunes TV downloads are from your content, you'd like to print a bigger cheque from that 30%, but it's not Apple's ebullience and sticking to their guns over pricing that's their enemy. NBC's enemy is already out there, more prevalent and entrenched than even the almighty iTunes: normal television.

NBC is worried about their pricing on iTunes, but they've already made TV a cheap commodity, regardless of whether it was intentional. Instead of worrying over whether they get the better part of $2 or the better part of $5, they ought to wonder this: What if everyone said "Screw you, iTunes" and switched to another means of scraping content to an iPod that cuts out any digital media revenues whatsoever? Eye TV (as mentioned in an excellent piece at iLounge) and other options get the job done (albeit with a less elegant work-flow), and technically we don't pay yet another fee to the networks for such a privilege.

Sure, the iTunes Store isn't to everyone's taste (consumer and content-provider alike) but it offers something that noone has been able to emulate to-date: a simple, elegant, hassle-free, and unobtrusively-protected media store which (at least in the US) is fairly priced. For NBC to seemingly miss the boat simply makes the mind boggle at how, after all this time, some folks just don't seem to see the digital world, and its interactions with the physical, as it stands today.

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