Saturday, October 15, 2005

Opinions mixed on ABC's ITMS strategy

Opinions are mixed on Disney CEO Bob Iger's announcement to offer commercial-free versions of ABC's "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" for sale in the iTunes Music Store the day after they air on network TV (I'm hoping they'll add "Grey's Anatomy", too!). I think it's a brilliant marketing move, as is ESPN's strategy to stream entire MLB games on mobile devices.

Many in the blogosphere think current tech like DVR, VHS, streaming and P2P provide a suitable solution, generally being cost-free, and with the exception of many P2P networks, legal and in real-time. Such a mentality holds that for-purchase shows just won't make it due to existing tech platforms. Others within the biz say the purchase offering will kill mainstream TV ratings, because people will be willing to miss the aired show for free over cable if they can get it asynchronously time-shifted over ITMS. (I've also come across blog posts stating that said videos can't be paused, rewound, or forwarded...I'm trying to find the links.)

I'm hoping other networks follow suit. Imagine the additional revenue Fox would gain if reality shows like "American Idol" released their season finale in ITMS. The institution has become such a pop culture phenomenon that all the major networks carry coverage of it ad nauseum anyway, so imagine ($1.99/unit * 100,000 units) in additional after-the-fact profits generated by people wanting to relive the big moment. Mark Cuban projects such practice giving rise to a rich new paradigm of content syndication.

And further, think what would happen if Apple/ABC/other sources collaborated on a permanent subscription model, wherein you'd pay a set fee for [X] number of episodes, which would be [Y%] cheaper than if you bought an entire season's shows individually and got automatic delivery of the content. It's retooling information by applying new media applications to proven concepts.

Steve Speicher doesn't think the iTunes model will last and a few people have already noted opposition that ITMS isn't at the moment supporting independent or homemade movies. But Cuban defends the tactic as a stroke of genius and that it will forge a new economy, and I tend to agree. The model works for music and it can work for TV/video. It's simplicity is what makes it effective. But I don't think we should go all-in just yet and start demanding networks to translate their entire programming schedule to ITMS.

I've been asked what would happen if other networks decide to adopt more liberal streaming practices in order to compete. Easy - it's still streaming, and not a hard copy you can carry around with you or not easily port to other platforms. MTV Overdrive, that network's broadband service, can still become more aggressive in releasing its content. It's free, customizable, includes additional goodies, and is supported by ads a user can't skip of fast-forward like many DVRs.

The balance of power in delivering mainstream media content will be preserved in that content people want and are willing to pay for (or just don't know of any other alternative) will be available in paid services like the iTunes Music Store and the others that will undoubtedly pop-up, and free services.

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