Fighting Over Distribution

Apple in a Fight for Rights to TV Shows – washingtonpost.compdf

Apple’s Steve Jobs helped save a sinking music industry, with his iPod and iTunes digital music store. Struggling record labels swallowed hard and accepted his 99-cents-per-song pricing because they had little choice.

When it comes to video content, however — hit television shows such as “Heroes” and “The Office,” and movies — Jobs’s bargaining position isn’t as strong. For the second time in a year, he is getting significant resistance from a content creator that would rather turn its back on the mighty iPod than capitulate to Jobs’s pricing demands.

And now, some music companies are starting to reexamine their relationships with Apple.

[…] Perhaps more important is the issue of distribution. Television companies don’t need Apple as much as music companies did.

[…] Who has more to lose in the fight?

“I don’t see video as the driving force behind iPod sales,” Adam C. Engst, publisher of Apple news Web site, wrote in an e-mail. “Music is why people buy iPods, and that won’t be changing any time soon — you can’t watch TV while jogging or driving.”

Bajarin called NBC’s move “a mistake.”

But NBC Universal spokesman Cory Shields said his company’s programs help drive the sales of iPods.

“The iPod is only as good as the content on it,” he said.

Yeah — but haven’t we already seen that the problem is not getting hold of content, but getting it in such a way as the copyright owners get paid? The iTunes innovation is far more about creating a distribution channel that at least deflects some of that motivation for infringement. Complicating distribution or, worse, playing games with excessively complex pricing doesn’t seem like a formula for success.

But, maybe media companies are no different from children — they’re just going to have to get burned to learn the lesson not to play with fire. You just have to hope they don’t burn down the house learning the lesson.