Apple's next move: ruin the online TV market

by Paul William Tenny

Apple's renewed attempts to create a rental market for TV episodes bothers me for a couple of reasons.

Renting a movie is a "full" experience. You get you what pay for in the form of a complete story with nothing (most of the time) left hanging and no upfront investment in time required. Full satisfaction, assuming the movie didn't stink, is a part of that package in other words.

Television shows obviously don't work that way. You don't get much satisfaction from a single episode, you need to invest some time for season-long story arcs to actually get moving and it takes a while for characters to be defined because the writers know they can take their time to make it count. With any luck on their behalf, the potential for renewal means no satisfaction at the end of the season either. Just a 99 cent cliff hanger that can only be resolved with another investment of 99 cents.

You don't really get what you want until the show is canceled or has run its course and they'll drag it out a decade or more if they can get away with it.

Does that really sound like a new business model designed to benefit consumers, or to pad Apple's bottom line?

It sounds like a dream come true for whoever wants to create a market like that. If a show is addictive enough, always asking questions but never giving any answers (Lost, etc), it's a goldmine. For the people paying money and expecting to be entertained, it's a giant ripoff. 99 cents per episode sounds cheap if you're only talking about one or two episodes, and perhaps that will work great for a procedural like CSI, but over the course of a season it's going to start wearing thin.

You can rent an entire season of a TV show through Netflix on DVD for less than the roughly $24 you'd pay to rent it from Apple, and you can watch most of it online for free on, certain websites owned by the cable networks like the History Channel which has most of their shows online, Netflix's online streaming for $9 per month, or you could just pirate it to escape the entire mess.

And then there's the matter of Apple's increasingly ugly reputation for exerting dictator-like control over the devices they sell and the software they make. Any show you rent will be wrapped in DRM and will only play on software and devices bearing Apple's seal of approval.

If you rent something from Netflix or Blockbuster, you can play that disc on any DVD player ever made in your home or at your friend's house. You can watch TV shows on Hulu from anywhere in America as many times as you want. Requiring people to pay every time they watch a single episode of a TV show seems like the kind of draconian business model that's being increasingly abandoned.

It even flies in the face of attempts to commercial Hulu with monthly payments that allow the viewing of entire seasons of many different TV shows.

It sounds good for Apple, but bad for the TV studios and bad for consumers.

in Business, Digital Media, Streaming Video, Television


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