Monday, January 09, 2006

Video Content: Simple or Free?

 Faultline, TV to iPod, PSP conversion tools spill onto the market:
"The upshot of this is that any business models that rely on selling copies of previously televised TV shows, such as Apple's sale of Lost and Desperate Housewives, is doomed to failure. Why pay for that content when it can be extracted for free."
This interesting article in The Register makes the point that Apple's current iTunes-based distribution model is 'doomed to failure' as tools now exist to transfer recorded video content to the iPod.

However, this statement misses one very important point: That of the balance between simplicity and cost.

Apple has always been a forerunner of the principle of simplicity in technology. In short, this would seem to mean that they recognize that technology should do what it is designed to do in the most user-friendly and simple way possible, and that it should simplify our lives rather than complicating them with more bells and whistles.


The iPod is purchased by a lot of average consumers who are not highly technical users. In fact, some would even suggest that this is Apple's target market. There are certainly more feature-rich digital audio players out there, yet Apple's iPod continues to dominate the marketplace. Some can argue that the 'trendiness' of the iPod contributes to this, but I don't think the iPod would retain this trendiness if it weren't also an incredibly intuitive and easy-to-use device. In short, if people bought iPods because they were cool, but then stopped using them because they were complicated, they would soon no longer be cool.

At the same time, the iTunes Music Store provides a simplified way of obtaining content for your iPod. In the audio world, it is not a complicated thing to purchase a CD, insert it into your computer, and import it into just about any software, and iTunes (the software) certainly makes this a simple process. However, despite this simplicity, there are still those paying iTMS $0.99 per track to download music.

Now why would people do this, when there are so many free options available? Certainly, the free options are of questionable legality at best depending upon your country of residence (I'm talking about P2P services here of course), but I don't think that this alone precludes people from using them.

Further, there are other inexpensive methods available for getting music content, including online services like eMusic and allofmp3.com. However, despite these other methods, iTMS continues to do reasonably well.

The reality is that most iPod users are not computer geeks. Most iPod users are 'joe consumer' who bought an iPod to listen to their music, and simply want to get their music onto their iPod in the simplest way possible.

Now, the average consumer usually still buys CDs, and iTunes (the software, not the store) makes this import process very easy and painless. Hence the majority of legitimate music on most iPods probably came from a purchased CD.

This approach diverges when entering the realm of video content, however. At this time, there is no reasonable way to purchase a DVD and automagically transfer it onto your iPod. There is software available that attempts to do this, but it is a time-consuming process at best, and generally not something that the average non-technical user wants to attempt. However, one might as well suggest that this alone would doom iTunes' video content approach to failure in the same way the availability of commercial audio CDs would doom iTunes' music content sales. After all, importing a CD into iTunes is so easy why would anybody bother to buy their music from the iTunes Music Store?

However, the article goes even further in assuming that the majority of iPod users actually have the capability in terms of hardware and knowledge to record video content from their TVs and then convert it into iPod format, and that therefore every owner of an iPod video who wants to watch a TV show on their iPod would rather do this than shell out $1.99.

If this were true, then sales of DVD box sets of TV shows should have never taken off either, since all of this content is freely available on TV, right?

Frankly, this is an unrealistic assumption even for a technical user. I'm a very experienced computer user myself, and I couldn't even begin to be bothered with this process just to get content onto my iPod, and being in Canada, I can't even get the iTMS video content yet, since it's only available in the U.S. So in my case, I'd rather not even have that content on my iPod than go through the trouble of recording it and transferring it manually.

So if this is the response of somebody who actually has the knowledge and ability to do this, how much more likely is the average iPod owner to bother?

Again, the iPod won it's market share for its simplicity and ease of use. iTMS will continue to survive for the same reason' I can either invest $35 for a season of a show I want to watch and have it on my iPod within minutes, or invest far more than $35 in time, effort, and hardware to record every episode of a season from my cable/satellite feed and encode it for my iPod, and wait several months to get a whole season.

To me, the choice is obvious.