updated 10:45 pm EST, Mon December 21, 2009
Subscription iTunes TV, tablet in works
Apple may have two studios lined up for its proposed iTunes TV subscription plan ahead of a winter tablet lanch, sources claim Monday night. Where before the rumored service had merely been proposed to studios, anonymous tips now suggest that CBS and Disney are at least "considering" signing onboard. Under the plan, at least some TV shows across participating networks would be available through a monthly subscription, including CBS and its sibling CW network as well as ABC, ABC Family and the Disney Channel.
To overcome hesitation on the part of studios, Apple would pay them per-subscriber rates higher than usually offered by cable or satellite providers. A customer downloading a freely-broadcast network like ABC would amount to between $2 and $4 each month, according to the Wall Street Journal, while basic cable channels would equate to between $1 and $2 over a similar period. The original plan had iTunes subscribers paying about $30 per month, though this may change as Apple tries to please TV networks; some shows may be left out of any subscription due to their being produced by an outside studio.
If successful in its ambitions, Apple would have the service ready sometime in 2010, though this is contingent on enough studios agreeing to a deal in time. It's unknown if any have actually committed to subscription iTunes TV so far.
Notably, the plans are complimentary to but not absolutely essential for Apple's purportedly in-development tablet device, whose larger screen would be ideal for watching videos. Contacts who claim to be aware of the plans corroborate other assertions that it will launch in March and is intended chiefly as a media player. Most past claims have it equipped with an approximately 10-inch multi-touch screen, a variant of the iPhone OS, and possibly 3G data.
Whether or not studios will agree to Apple's plans, if authentic, aren't clear. Cable and satellite TV providers increasingly see themselves fighting against Internet TV sources and have taken extra measures to either lure customers back to existing services or to punish customers for abandoning traditional TV: streaming-as-a-bonus services like Comcast's xfinity TV or tiered bandwidth caps have grown in popularity. Comcast and Time Warner are distinctly less likely to allow TV networks like NBC and TBS to participate as they may see Apple stealing their customers.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs' presence on the Disney board is likely to help sway it and ABC towards any deal.
Also, movie and TV studios have historically been reluctant to accept Apple's demands as music labels were with the launch of the iTunes Music Store in 2003. Apple's quick control of digital music left record labels dependent on iTunes for success and is known to have frightened video producers determined to keep their choices open. While many agree to sell ad-free episodes, they're less likely to accept similar terms for bulk viewing and have often preferred ad-supported web streaming in these circumstances.
Regardless of success, a subscription plan would be a distinct break from Apple's prior attitude, which has usually insisted on per-item ownership instead of subscriptions. TV may be different as it has long followed a subscription model and would be easier to digest for iTunes visitors than subscription music.