At last — TV shows on iTunes

Matthew JC. Powell
25 June, 2008
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Apple very quietly added TV shows to the content of Australia’s iTunes Store yesterday, not even issuing a press release about it until early this morning (and that with no subject line). The shows, from three American producers and two Australian ones, cost $2.99 each and finally provide a fully legal way to populate an Apple TV, iPod touch or — in a few weeks — iPhone with compelling content. Up until now the only video content available from the iTunes Store has been Pixar short films, music videos and movie trailers.

The selection at this stage remains fairly limited. 21 shows in all are available from five producers, including both the American ABC network and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Our ABC has, of course, been distributing its own video content via its web site for some time now for free, and much of the content now selling on iTunes is available that way. The other Australian content comes from the Nine Network — Sea Patrol, Canal Road, Urban Magic and McLeod’s Daughters. Intriguingly, the press release says that programming from the Seven Network is available, though as this went online nothing from Seven was available from iTunes (unless you count American shows that happen to be shown on the Seven network here — but Apple wouldn’t be that sneaky, would it?).

(At this stage Apple appears to have employed some kind of scientific/voodoo technique to ensure that not one of the shows on offer is one that I actually watch, so it’s difficult for me to gauge how compelling others will find the content. $2.99 worth? You tell me.)

When Apple launched the video content on the iTunes Store in the USA, it only had the American ABC network on board, and this has subsequently grown to include almost every major supplier of video content in the US (though not the NBC network, following a falling-out over pricing). Chances seem good that the range of choice available on the Australian store will broaden as well in time.

In February this year Apple hired Kevin Swint, formerly of US retail giant Wal-Mart, to spearhead its efforts to distribute TV and movie content via iTunes internationally. This would appear to be the first fruit of that labour, and hopefully will lead to considerably more content in the near future. Eddy Cue, Apple’s Vice-President of iTunes, described this release as "a great start" in Apple’s statement, so indications are there. More TV shows, more short films and — dare to dream — movies may well follow.

Apple added video content to the UK iTunes Store in August last year, then in December to Canada. The international rollout continuied into this year with Germany getting TV shows in April, and Canada and the UK getting movie downloads just a few weeks ago.

The next quetion is, will this put pressure on Apple Australia to start pricing the AppleTV affordably? iPods and iPhones are only one way to view the content you purchase from iTunes, the piece de resistance is the ability to watch it on your TV set in the lounge room, and for that Apple TV is the way to go. Unfortunately, Apple TV is currently priced at $449 for the 40GB version and $579 for the 160GB — as opposed to $US229 and $US329 for the same products in their home country. While we can’t expect parity pricing from Apple, 50 and 60 percent premiums (even accounting for GST) seem unreasonable. When the price of Apple TV was lowered in the US in January, the Australian price was unchanged.

One can easily imagine that the reason for this was that, with no movies or TV shows available on the iTunes Store no-one had a reason to buy an Apple TV, so who woulod notice that the price didn’t move? Now that the type of content people would be willing to buy might start becoming available through the Store, it might be time for Apple to rethink that strategy.

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