Leave the country for two days, and this is what happens. They go and start the revolution without me. The only thing more annoying is that Michael Jackson is apparently staying in my hotel in London. They keep asking for my room key whenever I go down to the bar.
The video IPod, of course, is a miserable idea. I'm one of those who believe people associate certain types of entertainment with certain viewing habits/places -- one of the reasons downloaded movies are grifted by far less than 1% of the population, and the reason XBoxes and PS2's bury PC games in sales. The flat-screen G5 is the real darling here, engineered to match our established viewing habits. Only 20 inches, though? Wonder what'll come out for Christmas, hmmmm?
Some have e-mailed me to tell me that my 4th Generation Media has arrived. This is not technically true (and hey, I should be getting rich from this, right? Where are my filthy monies?). In my formulation, 4gM is a media, not a distribution, philosophy. To recap our central metaphor:
An effective 4GW army projects its force past the battlefield in order to directly affect the political will of the opponent.
An effective 4GM entertainment source projects its force past the mainstream media distribution system in order to directly connect with its audience.
Today's news is a crucial first step in the tactics of 4GM. You'll note Apple has done a cunning little sidestep here, in that their player will not play ripped movies -- but decrypted rips converted to Quicktime will play. Yes, yes Hollywood, we have your back ... suckers. Apple did this because, unlike the studios, they have remembered they are in the business of making money, while the studios gits are in the business of maintaining the status quo. An entire generation of new media humans will now have as their first introduction to online-received media be through proprietary Apple software, not Divx.
The more I think about this, the more obvious it becomes Apple has played Disney like a chump, and had Disney whispering "thank you, sir, and may I have another?" Apple just "allowed" Disney to bootstrap them into the number one spot in new media, even a step ahead of Bill Gates obsession with developing a "set-top box" run by Windows. And with LCD HDTV -- no, wait, we'll pick that up in a second.
You can see Disney being dragged kicking and screaming into this by some of their smarter execs. A resolution of 320x240? Ugh. And they will only really be offering product that's already been established as successful in the traditional TV "battlespace" -- hence my comment that this is really about tactics, not strategy or operational level rethinking. We won't be into full-on 4GM until original content starts popping up on these services, and succeeding.
However, this is an important first step. They are monetizing the process -- excellent. The price point is exactly what my research has shown to be the right amount, less than or equal to $2.00 for a TV episode. As I've stated before, at that price you can run a very, very spiffy television show with a little over one million viewers per episode. That's at the top end of the download audience right now, but add that to the hardware/cultural innovations ... again, hold onto that for a bit.
The real questions is what the next step by Disney's competitors will be. Will they also cut deals with Apple? Will the competing media companies try to form their own proprietary download systems? Time Warner, should've had a BitTorrent front-end grafted onto AOL ages ago: we'll see if it's too late now or even if AOL winds up in somebody else's pocket. But what's Fox/News Corp going to do? Sony? Enjoy those shitty DRM wars.
There's one more crucial step to accomplish before we really break free into the new horizon: getting the entertainment from computer to TV. And yes, I know, you can stream stuff, and the new Video IPod will have a connecting cradle -- but I mean seamlessly. Less than two steps. As in my 70-year-old mother-in-law can use it seamlessly, with the same ease to which she's become a Tivo addict. Pardon me, a Rogers Digital Cable DVR addict.
(That reminding us Tivo will go down as the biggest missed opportunity in New Media history. They got there the first with the most. They achieved that singular cultural success -- they became the verb for the process. And they pissed that early lead away. If the Netflix deal is what I've heard it is -- you download the movies on your computer then transfer them to the Tivo -- it's already doomed. Although I root for them, I think that they've got less than a year to turn things around before becoming a footnote.)
This hardware hurdle one of the reasons that although this Apple news is nice, I'm really watching the new Google/Comcast buddy-buddy relationship with far more interest. I will state this plainly, at the risk of open mocking when I am proven wrong: Comcast and other cable companies are the companies who will eventually win, and define our media future. They control the pipe. Period. A Google/Comcast combo -- jesus. Sure, you have an Apple Airport or a Windows-based PC with a router ... but who controls the cable to your house so all that tech can work? The day Comcast and its ilk declare "All that 'streaming media' you get over the internet -- you get it on your TV, through our box (which 85% already are used to having), and you don't have to do anything but point and click with your remote in the living room" it is ALL. OVER. And if there's not even a box ... most bleeding edge HDTV's/LCD's have enough integrated processing power to run cable company software. "Yes," I hear some of you say, "and to hook up to your ethernet or WiFi" but that's not the bloody point.
This is what I was mentioning earlier about the Windows set-top box. Microsoft, as is its tradition, is trying to crack an egg with a hammer. "Your Windows-brand set-top box will play your filthy TV shows AND run all your favorite Microsoft programs and have the spiffiest front-end --" Bah. Nobody wants to do spreadsheets on their TV. Nobody really wants to surf on their TV, really either, although that habit may eventually evolve. I know a big part of advertising and succesful marketing is convincing people that they need something they don't need, but it won't work when there's already a need that's not being met, and a very simple solution to it sitting right there in the marketplace. All most people would need to feel like they're living in the goddam 22nd Century is a variant of the very dumb box they already have. Yes, the rumored AirPort video streaming gizmo should be nice, but if the cable companies get there first, with the tech they've already mastered ...
Whoever gets there first -- with the fewest pieces of new hardware -- will win.