The Future of Apple Video Downloads

Premium Distributed Content from Apple? Jonathan Greene looks into what the future delivery of television could hold through Apple’s download service and wonders if higher res premium content and more selection might be in the cards in the future.

Although it is fun to dream, and I do dream of a day when everything truly (past, present and future) is available through the mother of all TV archive download services, I think it is unlikely that Apple will be the one to become this download clearing service. Perhaps I’m wrong though.

What is needed for Apple, or anyone for that matter, to become the new content distribution king is to get enough high def content available in one place and to have it instantly available. In order to do this at scale they would need a huge amount of momentum. Only then will people cancel their cable and satellite service and move to this new distribution model.

There are several reasons that this is unlikely.

1. Bandwidth is too expensive to stream people’s television to them in high def at present (this perhaps will change in the future). Jonathan brings up Bittorrent and other distribution methods to consider, but I doubt you’d ever see them as central to the possibility of a service like this would be lock solid control over the files.

2. This idea represents too threatening of a concept to the cable and satellite companies and they do have both clout with the content producers as well as political influence.

3. It would be difficult to stream live television — like sports — and this would necessitate keeping some form of satellite or cable service which would add to the cost of a download only solution.

4. At $1.99 per download, most people would probably pay more under this model than the current all you can eat model. You’d need to get the per show charge cheaper and then there would be fighting between Apple and the content providers over what the right price was and who got to keep what.

5. You’d need a computer (or at least an extender unit) in every living room and this is going to take a long time.

6. The owners of the content want more control over the content, not less. They already hate the PVR, they will fight something like this even more. They will especially fight high res downloads as it will interfere with their far more profitable DVD business.

7. If ever confronted with a serious challenge, the cable and satellite providers would drop their prices to save market share and the ensuing price war would make the whole business unattractive.

8. Bittorrent and other pirated TV files will eat into any download model business.

Unlike their more succesful music downloads, Apple’s video downloads will remain a niche offering for a select few shows and I predict in the end will not be very successful. People will tire of watching television in low res on tiny little screens. There will be an audience of loyal Apple fans who use the service and probably kids in particular will gravitate towards the music videos. But this will not be the thing that turns television distribution on it’s head. As much as I wish it could be.

This being said, I do think that internet television will be a super fun place full of all kinds of long tail niche content. Again, I don’t think Apple will be the company to aggregate this content, but I do think that little companies will emerge here and there and have a lot of fun things to download and hopefully over time in higher and higher resolution. This is a long way away though from the vision of everything online all the time. Unfortunately I think I’ll still be paying Comcast or DirecTV for a long, long time.