Steve Jobs was against the idea of music subscription services. He felt that people wanted to own music, and it’s certainly turned out that he was right. I don’t think the same thing has proven to be true for TV, and with Netflix’s instant service I think it’s becoming less true for movies. In fact, I’ll posit that the importance of ownership scales with how many times you go back to a particular work of art. I have songs I’ve listened to hundreds of times. Favorite movies I’ve watched dozens of times. TV shows I’ve watched a few times. Books I’ve read maybe twice. I think as digital takes over and media becomes more instantly available, our need to own stuff will decrease.
This leads me to speculate that Apple is on the verge of releasing a service to rival Netflix and cable companies. The trick of course is getting TV networks to agree to the idea, of course, and I don’t see something like this being unveiled tomorrow (if ever). But the general picture would be that you pay Apple a monthly fee and get access to new TV shows, potentially with ads. Tons of roadblocks, of course. Would shows be available at the exact same time as they’re broadcast? Such a service could easily replace cable for many people, and the TV networks have big deals with the cable providers. Many of those cable providers are also internet service providers who would resent having to deliver shows over their networks rather than their cables. (Oh, and I expect we’ll see unlimited home broadband internet starting to get phased out. I’m surprised it’s not already happening more widely outside of 3G service.) If the shows have ads, are they going to be just the same ad over and over like we have now on various networks’ apps and websites? How will commercial skipping work, if at all? Amazon gives a bunch of services all bundled in with Amazon Prime: free shipping, access to a large video library, and Kindle book borrowing. Will this be a new service I’ll get a bill from Apple for, in addition to iTunes Match and probably soon expanded iCloud storage?
As I said, I don’t expect to see this tomorrow, but if it ever debuts, I think it’ll be huge, and I think people are missing the point right now thinking about Apple making its own TV set. Yes, it may do that, because there’s money to be made selling TVs, but the same service will be accessible via a little Apple TV box, a Mac, an iPhone, and an iPad. The pitch will be “your TV everywhere” and you’ll see demos of people starting a show at home and finishing right where they left off on the bus to work. (And it still probably won’t account for multi-user homes well.)