iTunes 6 Tested: Your Next TV Supplier?

Russ takes us those who haven’t got a US credit card through iTunes 6 with the downloading of video and contemplates its impact.

iTunes 6 Tested: Your TV Supplier?I’m sure by now everyone has heard that the new version of Apple’s iTunes (version 6) permits the U.S. user to download music videos and television shows (the U.K. user gets the music videos, but not the television shows). Apple’s announcement, released yesterday, says:

iTunes 6, the next generation of the world’s most popular music jukebox and online music store, lets fans purchase and download over 2,000 music videos and six short films from Academy Award-winning Pixar Animation Studios for just $1.99 each. Customers can also now purchase and download their favorite television shows from iTunes the day after they air on TV, watch them on their Mac or PC and Auto-Sync them onto the new iPod for viewing anywhere.

So, I tried it today. Here’s a snapshot of my experience and my hastily-drawn conclusions for media and communications policy.

My experience:iTunes 6 Tested: Your TV Supplier?* I downloaded and installed iTunes6. Takes 5-10 minutes. No big deal. iTunes6 has the same basic interface and purchasing/sampling system as previous versions of iTunes.

* I do not own the new video-ipod. Some of the press coverage makes it sound like the video-ipod is required to enjoy the video downloads. It’s not – you can play them on your PC or laptop.

* The product selection is not bad, for the second day of availability. There were episodes from 5 Disney TV shows available (including Lost and Desperate Housewives) and what looks like hundreds if not more music videos. There were also 6 Pixar films available. I think they are short films. By the way, the ‘Apple Music Store’ is now a misnomer.

* I purchased two items for about $4.00 – a music video (All These Things That I’ve Done, by The Killers) and an episode of Disney’s Desperate Housewives (first episode of season 2). I don’t mind paying $1.99 for a music video (something that I will likely play frequently), but it’s a steep price for a television episode that I might never watch again. I suppose it depends on the product selection and whether sports and news ever make their way on to this service.

iPod With Video; New iMac; FrontRow; iTunes 6: Apple Summary* File sizes: Killers video: 20.1 mb; Desperate Housewives episode: 208.6 mb. Both were MPEG-4 video files.

* Both downloads completed in about 2 minutes each. I’m on a high-speed connection, and obviously times will vary depending on what’s under your PC’s hood.

* Both video products were of good—but not great—quality and played in what looks like a Quicktime video window. You can manipulate the screen size, so smaller screen = better quality.

* Unlike the BBC’s interactive media player (IMP), I ‘own’ these videos and may keep them on my PC just like music files for as long as I want. The IMP really seems to serve a different purpose and seems more like a DVR than the Apple product. We’ll see.

Hastily-drawn policy conclusions:* The EC should put off serious consideration of any proposed revision of the Television Without Frontiers Directive for at least one year. The EC should see where the market heads before acting. Really, folks, it’s absurd for an intelligent regulator to be developing ex ante rules that may be seriously missing whatever developments occur in the marketplace. Viviane Reding might want to rethink her linear / non-linear distinction if the marketplace offers nothing much by way of linear services, or offers something that is not easily pigeonholed into a category being created at this time. Ms. Reding’s actions may actually have the Oedipus-effect of encouraging IPTV players to avoid linear products. Madness.

* I attended an IPTV conference earlier this year and the focus was completely on telcos offering IPTV service (in a triple play with internet and telephony) that resembles a cable or satellite offering. Well, Apple’s not a telco and iTunes6 does not resemble a traditional multichannel video offering. Same for Major League Baseball, the other important IPTV offering available at this time. Again, we’ll see what happens.

* Broadband, broadband,broadband. The number one priority for policy-makers should be to get faster, cheaper broadband to more areas of the country. With these types of services and free PC-to-PC VoIP, is there any policy goal more important than broadband if you really have the interests of consumers at heart?

iTunes 6 Tested: Your TV Supplier?* I’m sure there are some underlying copyright / “rip-off Britain” issues at play here. I’m just not smart enough to figure them out. But there is a problem when the popular television shows are not available on iTunes-UK and the same music video is 1.89 GBP or about $3.30 – that’s $1.30 extra for each music video that UK customers must pay.

* Public service broadcasters (PSB) in Europe beware. The ‘quality and universality’ arguments you’ve made over the years to avoid true competition are about to be seriously put to the test.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the Desperate Housewives video had no adverts in it. There appeared to be quick gaps where adverts would normally be placed.