Perhaps Jeff Zucker had Steve Jobs right all along. I’m coming around to at least wondering about it. Last fall, when NBC took its video properties off of iTunes, allegedly because it wanted to charge more for TV shows then a $1.99 and Apple said no, I railed on Zucker.
I’m now considering being a flip-flopping backtracker. I hate flip-flopping, but there are two data points that have me thinking about it.
1. NBC is still selling digital downloads for $1.99. It didn’t raise the price. I wonder if they were just looking to bail out by any means necessary. What’s more, via Hulu.com, there’s more stuff available free than ever. Including last Friday’s season four premier of Battlestar Galactica. As well as all fourteen episodes (including the Pilot) of Firefly. 2. Steve Jobs recently said Apple wouldn’t be supporting Adobe’s Flash on the iPhone.
Back in early July when I’d already had my hands on my iPhone for a few days and already loved it enough to marry it were such a thing legal, I used to read venture capitalist Fred Wilson rail on Apple and it’s “closed” system. The way he was writing about it, you’d think it was a Mac lover writing about Microsoft circa 1996, but he was writing about Apple.
My response to that was pretty much “Bah!” I figured, the thing has a web browser, that’s as open as it needs to be. My most trusted source for all things technology, Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal was led to believe Flash was coming, perhaps as soon as October (that date came and went). I figured, once the thing has Flash, it’s as open as it needs to be as far as I’m concerned.
Then I finally got around to reading Jobs claiming that they wouldn’t be supporting Flash on the iPhone because it’s too slow. Oh please, that’s poppycock. I’ve used Flash streaming on Windows and a low-end MacBook. It’s plenty fast enough.
I’ll give Apple and YouTube (Google) credit, they figured out how to stream H.264 over a WiFi connection very nicely. I can stream very high quality YouTube videos on my iPhone via a WiFi connection and they look great. There’s only one problem with this, and it’s not a small one. For all practical purposes, nothing I want to watch is on YouTube.
What I do want to watch, what I can watch from any computer (Apple, Windows, and if I had one, Linux too, I imagine) with a web browser is all the stuff that is stored on my media server, including things from one of my DVRs, and everything that’s on my television via SlingBox (or Orb.com). Every computer with a web browser, that is, except my iPhone.
I’m pretty bummed out about it. About as bummed as I’d be if I’d bought the greatest, biggest, widest flatscreen High Definition television in the world, but was only able to tune in the CW and PBS.
So much for liberating my media completely. I know people were enthused because Apple is creating an SDK for the iPhone (that’s techie jargon for providing a framework for allowing software developers to create applications for the phone), and so Adobe was hopeful that despite Apple not supporting Flash, it could write support for it anyway. But from what I read, the SDK won’t play nice with Flash, so that’s not looking good either.
I’ve written about this elsewhere, but it’s important here too, because the battle lines are starting to be drawn. There’s no easy way for me to get NBC shows on my iPhone. I can convert stuff I recorded off my DVR, but that’s not a 10 second process. I can’t buy the NBC shows off iTunes, and even if I have a great WiFi connection, I can’t go to Hulu.com and just watch on my iPhone.
I can’t watch my cable (live, or what’s on my DVR) as I can on my laptop. I loved the notion of having a television in my pocket and not having to pay for the content I have in fact already paid for! OK, so yeah, besides 30 Rock and The Office there’s probably not much from NBC I’d want to watch, but hello – NBC owns the distribution of Battlestar Galactica too. The iPhone has no love for Battlestar Galactica. Sadly, the absolute easiest way to get BSG on my iPhone is to download a torrent that’s already been optimized for the small screen.
And the convenience is a bummer too. If I’m not home at 2:30pm and I have a WiFi connection and some time to kill, I’d like to be able to connect up to my television at home and watch ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption. Steve Jobs and Apple won’t let me do that. Thanks a lot. It’s wonderful that ESPN now makes PTI (and for that matter Around the Horn and Jim Rome Is Burning) available via ESPN.COM now, but, you guessed it – that’s in Flash too. Just like Hulu. Every episode of LOST is up on ABC.com, in HD no less. Also in Flash. Want to watch House via FOX.com or Huly on your iPhone? Nope. No can do.
Jobs is a complete control freak and it’s a double-edged sword. As I’ve written elsewhere, one edge of the sword worked out very nicely. If he hadn’t been an insane control freak there’s no way he could have built a phone with a full-fledged operating system in it. None of the carriers would want to do that – give him that kind of control, which is why Apple cut the exclusive deal with AT&T – so it could have control. The result is a very, very, very fine piece of technology that without being such a control freak couldn’t likely have been built.
But when you want to control what I access and how – when you want to control “the Internet” by saying “our iPhone version of the Internet will not support Flash, even though it’s everywhere on the Internet – suck it up and watch YouTube or buy the content on iTunes,” that’s not a very consumer friendly device.
It took Jobs many years to come out against
DMA DRM more jargon for all the BS copy protection the music labels try to stick on songs to make it a pain to steal, that also makes it a pain for you to do whatever you want with music you’ve already paid for. Jobs now says DMA DRM isn’t a very consumer friendly thing. Now, when it comes to accessing my own media, and the Internet – neither is the iPhone.
While iTunes recently surpassed WalMart as the number one distributor of music (not just number one online, number one overall!) the portion of TV and Movie revenue coming off of iTunes is but a pittance. That's probably more of a bandwidth issue than a business issue at this point.
I’m hopeful that all the Flash talk from Jobs is just some shrewd negotiating strategy. If not, as he finally did with
DMADRM, I hope he comes to his senses soon. Yes, I know portable video on the iPhone and iPod touch isn't a big deal right now, and that you can access any Flash video just fine from any Apple computer that's not an iPhone or iPod Touch, but I'm looking forward several years.
Originally I thought NBC and Zucker were just cutting off its nose to spite its face by bailing on iTunes. Now I’m not so sure. Now I wish FOX, ABC and CBS (and the CW) would join forces with NBC and bail as well. Collusion and solidarity wouldn’t bother me one little bit in this instance.