Why Apple Doesn’t Want you to Have A PVR

Larry Angell lays out his theory on why Jobs and Co. don’t want you to have a PVR in your iMac:

“It’s simple really—why would Apple provide you with the capabilities to easily record all the John Locke goodness of “Lost” or the latest Dunder-Mifflin mishaps of “The Office” when the company can get a cut of a $1.99 per show? There’s also the theory of evilly locking customers into the FairPlay DRM so they won’t ever buy anything besides an Apple media device to play their purchased content on… but Apple needs to sell you the shows for this to work. Unfortunately, these are of lesser quality than what you could record yourself.

If Apple had added a TV tuner to the new Intel Mac minis along with a slick interface and a big hard drive for storing all your favorite shows, they would have also been forced to allow users to transfer their recorded shows to their iPods. Free video content for iPods. Sounds good. But Apple wants to continue building its customer base for paid video downloads and make a little money at the same time. There’s also the little thing of completely angering every TV network and movie studio—something Steve doesn’t want to do if he wants to keep selling their content.

Simply put, I wouldn’t expect to see a Mac with built-in DVR features any time soon. Like or not, Apple is way too far into the business of selling video content dipped in their own DRM. It’s just not in their best interest to allow us to record whatever we want for free. Don’t get me wrong, the iTunes store is amazing. There’s a convenience factor there that can’t be matched. And the store also helps sell iPods and Macs. I just wish we could have both options—buying from Apple and recording what we wanted. I know I’d be doing both.”

…Which is all good and fine… but… Apple is fooling themselves if they seriously think that their low res crappy downloads that they offer today are ever going to be a substitute for people’s cable or satellite TV, and when everyone else is moving to high def (CES was all about high def this year) the quality of the programming does actually matter.

And if people keep their cable or satellite programming, than any extra add ons from iTunes only cost more. With both TiVo and Microsoft coming to market this year with high def PVRs Apple is seriously lagging. Sure there will be an Apple fanboy market for the new iMac, but people want convergence. People don’t want a TiVo AND an iMac in their living room. They want one or the other. And some might say that people don’t want a computer in their living room at all, which is where Microsoft’s Extender strategy has a leg up on Apple already.

Other than being simple and relatively cheap, Apple needs something else to distinguish themselves. If they want to sit their business strategy on a download future vs. a broadcast future than they are going to need to seriously increase the quality of what we can hope to download and price the downloads to the point where they can legitimately become an alternative to satellite or cable. For example, all the HDTV you can watch for $30 a month, rather than the charge per low res crappy download that they have today.

Angell does nail the chief problem with video iTunes when he writes, “Unfortunately, these are of lesser quality than what you could record yourself.” And I would add, without incurring any additional per use cost over your current cable/satellite bill.

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10 Comments

  1. Janio Cabezas says:

    Truth is, Tivo-like capabilities are a bridge technology.. In the future we will either download or stream content through the net. Not sure how long it will take for companies like Yahoo or Google to realize (and implement) this fact.. I believe Apple has got the idea right, but the pricing scheme is wrong. opposite to music, weher we tend to go back to our old libraries every once in a while, TV is consumed on the spot, therefore for TV the subscription model is the correct one. Funny how Microsoft/Napster is dealing with the opposite problem in the music downloads business..

  2. I’d like to believe Apple will eventually increase the resolution of all their basic video files to 480p. They probably need a more powerful CPU in the iPod before they can consider that.

    I suspect this is all part of a plan to create their own a la carte IPTV service. Eventually, they’ll add a Netflix/Vongo-style movie service that lets you watch two movies at a time for $9.99/mo. — $16.99/mo. for HD movies — then lets you decide what videos you want to buy on top of that. Pay-per-month video podcasts would likely become the norm, too, and I bet ESPN would figure prominently here…

  3. I’d like to believe Apple will eventually increase the resolution of all their basic video files to 480p. They probably need a more powerful CPU in the iPod before they can consider that.

    I suspect this is all part of a plan to create their own a la carte IPTV service. Eventually, they’ll add a Netflix/Vongo-style movie service that lets you watch two movies at a time for $9.99/mo. — $16.99/mo. for HD movies — then lets you decide what videos you want to buy on top of that. Pay-per-month video podcasts would likely become the norm, too, and I bet ESPN would figure prominently here…

  4. steve says:

    I think he is wrong that is the reason Apple hasn’t created DVR capabilities.

    If they did, the extra hardware sales would more than make up for any potential lost download revenue (they’re making money on iPods now, not iTunes).

    Maybe they are waiting to be able to release something even cheaper than the mini. Though I wish they’d just get on with it or I’ll be forced to buy a tivo soon.

  5. steve says:

    I think he is wrong that is the reason Apple hasn’t created DVR capabilities.

    If they did, the extra hardware sales would more than make up for any potential lost download revenue (they’re making money on iPods now, not iTunes).

    Maybe they are waiting to be able to release something even cheaper than the mini. Though I wish they’d just get on with it or I’ll be forced to buy a tivo soon.

  6. EnergyGuru says:

    I don’t think it’s yahoo and google that have to realize it but the networks and show producers. On demand streaming at anytime, anyplace is the ultimate goal. It’s like that Qwest commercial from a few years ago. Slap a tivo UI and recommendation system on that and you’re set. Ideally you’d marry a Netflix subscription model. Say pay $30 a month and get unlimited access to streaming movies and TV shows and you’re set. Ideally you could download these to your ipod, TV, phone or computer. Then you can consumer wherever you want. For TV shows maybe you watch on the bus on the way to work, for movies you probably want your laptop on planes or your home theater system. I agree with Thomas that it doesn’t make sense to pay everytime I want to watch an episode of Lost. Why should I when I’m already paying my cable company and can just set my tivo. I’d love to be able to take it to go on my ipod, but I’m not going to pay an extra $2 for it.

    Sometimes you have to wonder why the guys who own the content aren’t trying to get people to pay for reruns. $2 per episode makes sense, but a perpetuity of $20 per month for anything they ever aired could make a ton of sense.

  7. Mike D says:

    My personal take on this is that PVR functionality and pay-per-download can co-exist. I am a huge TiVo user but there are times where I forgot to record something. Or I missed the first few episodes of a new show and I want to catch up on the shows that I missed. Yeah, I know that I can get the missed shows on BitTorrent but I don’t want to wait hours for the show to download. I am willing to pay a small fee to get the shows that I missed and I don’t think I’m alone on that.

  8. Shawn Oster says:

    Why didn’t Apple put a tuner in the mini? Because they are waiting until they announce that they are dropping OSX in favor of Vista *grin*.

    I know, it would never happen but it is fun to read all the articles out there with the theories. Some almost make sense until you remember Steve Jobs ego.

  9. Anonymous says:

    This entire story is absurd. Apple has the single best solutions for HDTV PVR in EyeTV and Virtual D-VHS with multiple tuners. There are multiple other solutions available as well for SDTV.

  10. yea, what the guy above me said! as an apple user i know there are quite a few options including eyetv (although truth be told a pc and my guru mac tech hubby grabs all my missed eps of shows for me, thanks to BT) and now with the new duel core intels inside i think it should be even easier. check versiontracker.com for the many many software options (many are free!!)
    it’s funny how many writers are PC users and have NO idea of the world of mac because they think about mac inside their boring little boxes. v.v. sad.