THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED - YET: Sony announced that it will be making episodes of its TV library available for Apple’s iTunes, a bit of news not coincidentally timed for the week that the new AppleTV box hit the market. According to the Variety story, Sony is mostly offering “classic” shows like Starsky & Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, NewsRadio and the animated Spider-Man series for download, joining more current shows such as Rules Of Engagement and ‘Til Death in the iTunes marketplace.
Apple’s set-top digital box, which wirelessly connects to the internet through your computer’s iTunes software, is meant to be the latest agent of media convergence; when it was announced alongside the iPhone early this year, there was speculation that the AppleTV could do for convergence what the iPod did for digital music, but early reviews haven’t done much to amplify the early enthusiasm, complaining of wait times for buffering, fussy syncing, less-than-stellar resolution, and the paucity of content available for buyers who are effectively restricted to the iTunes marketplace.
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Adding a new partner for content is exactly what Apple should be doing right now, but until the box – and the service that you’re effectively limited to using – can provide something like the real choice that the iTunes music marketplace offers, we might be looking at the Zune of Apple rollouts. Offering shows in real HD would be nice as well – right now, much of what’s available on iTunes video market is fine for a video iPod, but more than underwhelming on the HD screens that the AppleTV is designed for.
Of course, all of this is academic for Canadians who, thanks to our restrictive broadcast laws, can’t download any TV or movie content on iTunes Canada. Any iPod owner already knows that Apple’s Canadian music market doesn’t offer near the selection of its American parent. That’s never been a problem, since there’s more than one way to fill an iPod, but video selection on iTunes Canada is restricted to a few dozen music videos and Pixar’s short films, and it’s obvious that, at least as far as the AppleTV is concerned, this market is negligible for Apple.
If Apple Canada wanted to be bold, they’d pointedly avoid the legal nightmare of licensing U.S. content for the moment, and make deals with Canadian networks and producers for content. Why not use the considerable negative energy of cultural protectionism for good, and offer Corner Gas and Mike Holmes on iTunes, alongside films by Canadian producers like Alliance-Atlantis and TVA, not to mention the churning river of homegrown content from our cable networks? Hell, why not get the NFB involved as well, and call me crazy, but there might even be a market for the old Hinterland Who’s Who spots, at 99 cents a download. It might not make millions, but it’ll serve to keep the nerves twitching in a market that, at least right now, is wasting away from benign neglect.