Will Apple iPad Change Streaming Media?

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Why is the iPad so alluring to music, media and movie moguls? After all, it's only an iTunes-powered device with a big screen, so just why do people like Rupert Murdoch think it will save the publishing industry, and why does a band like Radiohead think it has a chance to bring artists closer to audiences?

A lengthy weekend report speculated that in future Apple will apply a little focus on a hitherto hush-hush feature which lets you stream video from a device running iOS 4.2 to an Apple TV, or music to an AirPlay device. (A feature I felt iPad should have had since day one).

Echoing what I've been saying for some time, the report added, "iPad, iPod touch and iPhone are not only going to be your remote, they will be the device that streams Internet content to your Airplay AppleTV."

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

That report cited another which speculated that in future you'll be able to stream any video asset from your iPad to your big screen television in this way.

This is all very well, that there is a technical possibility Apple will be able to allow users to stream content from their iDevice to their TV or home audio system using Apple-designed technologies such as AirPlay, but technical possibility doesn't automatically mean it will happen.

When it comes to movies and TV shows, it is pretty clear Apple hasn't yet secured the kind of wholesale support from studios that it requires to fully enable its new content ecosystem.

"We just don't think the value proposition is a good one for us," Warner Bros. Entertainment Chairman Barry Meyer told analyst Jessica Reif, saying he'd rather license whole seasons of shows rather than "open up a rental business in television at a low price."

Perhaps that's true, but there's this inexorable historical inevitability about this.

As the music industry has already discovered, technology may have enabled the cheap creation of a million hit singles (just look at Simon Cowell's credits, folks), but it has also opened the floodgates to free access to content online, devouring the industry in the process.

However, as both the music and movie industries depend on putting a profitable price on the delivery mechanism used to deliver high-quality content, it is clear that in both cases the business plan needs to evolve at a rate to match the evolution of the technology. And artists usually evolve faster than corporations.

Enter Radiohead: the band have just finished another group of songs, and "have begun to wonder about how to release them in a digital landscape that has changed again," bassist Colin Greenwood tells us.

Noting that the band haven't yet figured out how to release their next album, he offers a nod at the notion of a Radiohead album app for the iPad, saying that these days online,

"There is less interest in the technological side of the net, and more focus on what services the web can deliver, like any other media. People are using touch and gesture-controlled devices such as the iPad to see through those objects to get to the content they want.

"This transparency and immediacy is exciting for us as artists, because it brings us closer to our audience."

Hmm. Interesting. Perhaps Radiohead understand, as many other media industry pros understand: inside Apple's app ecosystem, iTunes users are already used to paying for content. iTunes is a market populated by more or less honest media consumers with a passionate interest in what they enjoy.

What else has Apple got to help it accomplish an end-to-end system for all your media everywhere as described here?

The secrets are found:

  • In the millions of Apple devices out there
  • The 160 million registered iTunes users
  • The additional six million iOS users it attracts each month

and one more thing -- as I think we'll see as this plan unfurls across the next year or two -- iAds.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has noted that the TV model is heavily subsidized, from cable and satellite partners paying for content in order to attract subscribers, to TV channels acquiring advertising revenues.

In an all-you-can-eat everything everywhere culture, TV's existing business plan takes a knock. And in order to see the creation of more classic shows, such as 24, Wire, Fringe or Ugly Betty, we as an audience have a vested interest in ensuring there is some money left within the content value chain.

Sure, people mutter, but we'd pay a rental fee for most TV and we'd purchase the really good things. Maybe, but that's only partial settlement. Does subscription really make up for the loss of those huge advertising revenues?

This is why I imagine that rente/subscription iTunes content will eventually be embedded with iAds. This may sound an awful virtual re-enactment of what you find on TV, but these ads will at least offer additional features and be -- somewhat spookily -- crafted to match you and your tastes.

Those ads, delivered out of your iOS device and into your eyes via your front room television set will most likely be deeply effective.

When it comes to a release -- should it emerge -- from an artist like Radiohead, imagine the birth of a new artform, cutting-edge music combined with video, images and more, all perhaps delivered within some form of immersive social gaming experience.

Imagine: a virtual Radiohead world in which a user might dive, re-emerging later having perhaps had a chat with a band member online and meeting with a few dozen or more other Radiohead fans also playing the new album. This is possible today.

Now imagine you have the tools to access that world on your Mac, PC, iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Apple TV, plus all-manner of third party devices licensed under Apple's AirPlay scheme (which is essentially a reinvented 'Made for iPod' scheme).

Like the music and the movie industries, the possibilities which are eventually realised are limited only by the imagination of those participating in the enterprise.

The beauty of the new digital world is that participants today also increasingly include the audience, as well as the creators, publicists and money men.

I'm interested to see if Apple has really been assembling the ingredients to reinvent television -- and wheter it has the support it needs from the existing industry in order to put its plan into full effect.

This story, "Will Apple iPad Change Streaming Media?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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