Thursday, December 08, 2005

I don't know why-pod

Okay, I'll admit that (a) I'm privileged enough to own an Apple iPod and (b) that I enjoy using it a great deal. I'll also say that I have one of the earlier-generation models--not one of the newer, fancier ones with colors, video screens, and gargantuan hard drives, but a more modest one with room enough for a modest music collection.

I'm intrigued--and disturbed--by Apple's recent decision to start selling television programs for use on iPods for US$1.99. I suppose the price is cheap enough if you have a video-capable iPod, and, besides, it's nice to have an opportunity to view a favorite show on demand. But in my more Orwellian moments, I have this vision of already expensive pay-for television getting even more expensive. I currently pay about US$50/month for basic cable television services. Now imagine a world in which typical television services (off-air, cable, and satellite) have been replaced by subscriptions to iPod/iTunes-distributed TV. Figuring that a typical TV program in the U.S. runs about 22 episodes per season, that would mean an annual subscription to any given program would set you back about US$44 (assuming no subscriber discounts, which would result in commercials getting spliced back into the programs). That's almost the cost of my monthly cable bill, and that's just for the right to download a single season of a single program.

Apple's decision to distribute TV programming through its iPod/iTunes service is genius--in that devilish, capitalist kind of way. Assuming the service catches on, the potential economic windfall for both the TV producers and for Apple could be astonishing. Of course, their astonishing revenue stream very well could mean emptier pockets for those of us on the receiving end of things.


Matt said...

This might be of interest, Ted.

I can't believe no one (myself included) hit upon exactly what you seem to here: the vector of capital running through the whole enterprise and its effect on the end user.

Ted Striphas said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for the link and for the comment. Again, I don't want to make too much of these developments, for who knows which way the technology will go. For what it's worth, my writing on the history of technology has consistently criticized doom-and-gloom scenarios such as the one I've proposed. Nevertheless, I think these are important shifts that are worth paying attention to--and intervening in, to the extent we're able. At minimum, our everyday media landscape is getting redrawn in very significant ways right now.