Apple, can you do for video what you did for music -- perhaps saving us all from NBComcast?
Last month's rumors about Apple talking to networks and Hollywood about TV show subscriptions got me thinking about what CEO Steve Jobs & Co. should do for making video content more accessible. I'm musing even harder today, given the pending announcement that Comcast will buy NBC Universal. The deal should have wide-ranging impact for cable and online TV content and companies that distribute it -- everyone from Hulu to Apple.
Now would be a really good time for Apple to rethink its video content strategy and make changes that will hold what I'm unaffectionately calling NBComcast at bay. Since I'm in one of my know-it-all moods, I'd like to offer a few suggestions to Apple. It's time for Apple to leverage its strengths by offering something like "Complete My Album" or "Upgrade to iTunes Plus" for movies, TV shows and music videos. Such iTunes features could change how people electronically rent or buy video content.
Timing is right to do something, given recent buzz about Hulu and YouTube charging for TV shows. Then there is NBComcast to consider, which merger should include partial Hulu ownership. Maybe Apple should renew those rumored Hollywood/TV network talks. The suits suddenly have reason to worry about NBComcast and what muscle it can wield over program development and distribution.
An Apple deal for watching programming through iTunes -- at the rumored $30 a month -- ought to look a helluva lot more appealing with Comcast gobbling up NBC. Apple should have most of the billing and technology infrastructure in place from renting movies. Surely it couldn't be too hard to add TV shows.
Something else in favor of making some big iTunes video changes: Paywall is a suddenly popular topic thanks to News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch. Not that Apple gives away much. At iTunes it's pay, pay, pay. Some of the paying is whacky. Yesterday, I stumbled on obscure, almost-one-hit-wonder-band Gun Hill Road at iTunes Store. Apple sells 1971 album "First Stop" for $4.99 -- say, a good deal for 22 songs -- but $1.29 for each track. Huh? What kind of pricing strategy is that -- more than 28 bucks at the single track price? But Gun Hill Road is off topic.
Back on topic: Apple, like everyone, is cranking out promotional emails for the holidays. Occasional iTunes sales and promotions do some of what I want to suggest ( and hopefully I haven't missed any important perpetual promotions or features): iTunes Store should apply the upsell "complete my this or that" music strategy to video. It worked for music, why not video? Of course, content copyright holders and distributors would have to be willing parties to the changes (if rumors be true about TV subscriptions, Apple already is talking to the right copyright holders). My requests/suggestions:
Complete My Purchase: People renting movies, particularly in HD, would be given a limited-time option to apply their rental fee to the full purchase price. So, if someone rents "Push" in HD for $4.99 and really likes it, he or she could buy the movie for $15 instead of $19.99.
Complete My Season Pass: Similarly, if someone buys a few episodes of "House," he or she could purchase the remaining Season Pass without paying for the already purchased ones.
Upgrade to HD: Someone who had purchased movies, music videos or TV shows in standard definition could go HD for the price difference between the formats. Long ago, I bought "Battlestar Galactica, Season 1" from iTunes in standard definition (HD wasn't available at the time). I would pay the difference for HD.
I'm convinced that options to upgrade to HD or purchase from rentals would extend the utility of the iTunes Store. How many more people would rent, if they knew of an option to buy discounted from their rental? How many people would buy standard definition today knowing they could upgrade to discounted HD when available?
Surely the licensing issues can't be insurmountable. Already, Apple offers standard versions with HD purchases for iPhone and iPod touch. Content providers would profit from the upsell, right? I ask that as a question, not knowing margin differences for rentals versus sales. I know that margins tend to be higher for subscription music content than tracks that are sold. I don't know the breakdown for video content.
So in closing I have to ask: What suggestions would you make to Apple about iTunes Store video content? Additionally, what do you think of Comcast plucking the NBC peacock's feathers? Please answer in comments.