Can Apple do for movies and video what they did for online digital music?

“The trouble with one business model that works for one area of digital media, is that it will rarely work, unchanged, for another area,” Faultline writes for The Register. “That’s the thing that has been bugging Steve Jobs at Apple and which stops his company from coming out with something analogous to a video iPod. But it doesn’t seem to be stopping any other company, and everyone this week seems ready to announce their shot at taking digital video to the world legally, hoping to become the iTunes of the movie and TV world.”

“Sony has announced it will launch a service next year, Microsoft has launched MSN Video Downloads in the US, Intel and Bertelsmann plan to collaborate on devices and a service for downloading music, movies and games, while Akimbo Systems, is adding more content to its download-to-DVR service, from the Food Network, Home & Garden Television and DIY Network,” Faultline writes. “It’s not that any one of them on its own is likely to revolutionize video file delivery to the home, but it shows how many companies are already on the track of the Holy Grail of internet film delivery services.”

“iTunes has managed to create an environment which can serve as a buying place for both old and new content. If you wish to have digital versions of all your old vinyl records, and put them on an iPod, it is possible. If you want to keep in touch with one specific genre, it is possible, if you want to own everything an artist has ever done, it is nearly possible,” Faultline writes. “The same needs to be possible in any successful version of an online film business. Simple search criteria for finding types of films, films with certain actors in, the entire works of a particular director, films which have the same or similar plot lines, or specific scenes in them. All this is a given and a standard way of indexing films and creating key metadata, still needs to be arrived at (it was the job of MPEG 7 but where is it?).”

“The Apple [iTunes Music Store] approach was to make the experience better than piracy, and that shouldn’t be too difficult, just achieve everything listed above. The wide variety of choice, the right platform/s to play the films on, the right price, and the right first time, simple ease of use. But there is a feeling that if all that was possible right now then Steve Jobs and Apple would have already launched it,” Faultline writes. “In the end, despite Job’s continual protestations that Apple is focused on music, we now expect that studios will go with any platform that Apple offers them, on the basis that if the company has solved music piracy by inventing a better service, then it’s the only company that is likely to have the chutzpah to do the job a second time, this time for films.”

Full article, an interesting read, with much more here.

Related MacDailyNews articles:
Apple picks chips for ‘vPod’ a ‘future multimedia mobile device?’ – April 06, 2005

19 Comments

  1. Good, so just like with digital music, these other wannabes will release their vPod pretenders, and show the world’s media consumers just how complicated and frustrating this kind of thing can be. Then after they’ve given it their all and failed, Apple will show everybody how it’s done and win all the marbles.

  2. Let’s look at this iTunes like video service rationally rather than the way we would like to. (We’d all love to be able to download our movies just like iTunes, but that’s not reality — yet.)

    First, what resolution do you want? HDTV 1080i, HDTV 720p, SDTV 480p? something for a portable (say 569×320) [let’s call this 320P] or something for a low rez portable (say 284×160) [and let’s call this 160P]?

    At these resoutions (and the typical sound that would come with them, e.g., 5.1 surround for the 1080i stuff, Dolby stereo for the 480p stuff, etc.) the data rates at the user end would be approximately (using typical h.264 compression rates and a cutting edge forward error correction coding such as Turbo 8/9 with multipass coding):

    1080i 7.8 Mbps
    720p 2.8 Mbps
    480p 1.2 Mbps
    320P 0.6 Mbps
    160P 0.15 Mbps

    Now let’s assume the home user has a T-1 equivalent (1.536 data rate [after subtacting out the 8 kbps signalling channel]). The times to download a 2 hour movie are then:

    1080i 10.25 hours
    720p 3.65 hours
    480p 1.52 hours
    320P 0.90 hours (54 minutes)
    160P 0.22 hours (13.5 minutes)

    How many people are going to want to completely tie up their broadband connections for this long? I believe many will put up with less than an hour but only a limited number will put up with the 1.52 hours for a standard definition movie. It takes MUCH less time than that to run to the local video store and buy the movie or rent it.

    Now let’s assume the home user has a true broadband setup like me. (My system is capped at 5Mbps but I typically get 3.0-3.5 Mbps). Assuimg the 5 Mbps cap these download times turn into:

    1080i 3.15 hours
    720p 1.12 hours
    480p 28 minutes
    320P 16.6 minutes
    160P 4.14 minutes

    While these times are much more reasonable, I still doubt the average home user will want to 100% tie up their boradband connection for over 3 hours for an HDTV movie.

    Yes, there are those people who will start a download and go to bed witht the movie available the next day. However, I believe a very large fraction of the iTunes Music Store’s purchases are based upon imuplse buyers. They want the song NOW. Most people are that way. They don’t wait for things very well. (A perfect example is the relative percentage of people who buy by credit card and pay it off over time versus the percentage of people who save for things before buying them.)

    Some services are starting to offer 7 Mbps systems to the home. This will help. However, my guess is that the average home user will want 720p or better by the time 7 Mbps ‘net connections become common as HDTV will become the norm by then.

    The real question is, “What resolution will people demand and how much time will they tolerate for the downloads?”

    As an aside:
    Things like BitTorrent will definitely help on the server side. There are already commercial companies using things like BitTorrent to distribute their software. This keeps companies from having to buy OC-48s or OC-192s if they want to distribute many, many megabytes of data very fast. (Other systems like I-beam and Akamai help too.)

    However, systems like BitTorrent do noting for the user side. If you have a T-1 equivent at your home you cannot stuff more than the 1.544 Mbps through it no matter what technique you use.

    But back to the basic question;
    Apple needs to determine what resolution people are willing to live with, and how long they are willing to wait for the download. Clearly Apple made this decision with the iTunes Music Store when they chose the default compression the store provides. Apple determined that AAC was necessary because MP3 at that data rate (the rate necessary to get downloads fast enough for the user) was not as good as people would want.

    The ‘net connection speeds are here today for the resolutions for portable players. I suspect 15-20 minute downloads are tolerable. Thus movie downloads for things like the Sony PSP or an Apple equivalent will be viable within the next year.

    My guess is for anything other than poratable players people will want a resolution and download speed that are not consistent with what the average user has for their current ‘net connection. This will change. Internet connection speeds are a moving target (25 years ago we called 56kbps Frame Relay a broadband connection). However, I don’t expect to see the iVideo Movie Store online within the next couple of years. The problem is not technology. The problem is not enough people have high enough connection speeds to justify it yet.

  3. Still have absolutely no interest whatsoever in watching tiny videos on a 2″ screen (or 6″ for that matter)…..but some sort of 80GB portable thingy with a digital video camera lens jammed on there somewhere would be very cool.

  4. You know, I was thinking about this today after reading some research notes that mentioned Apple might try to do the movie thing and I think there may be a simple reason why it won’t happen any time soon. Think back to the time before the iTunes music store and how things progressed. First there was the iTunes jukebox, next came the iPod and then finally, the iTunes music store and then iTunes for windows. Now, I don’t think iMovie is going to be used as the central database for storing and cateloging movies (it has an entirely different purpose in life) so we’ll need a new program for that – which would also require all of us to have gigs of movie data sitting around (I don’t have any, you? legally obtained? didn’t think so). Next, we have nothing to play the movies on, besides a laptop or streaming it out to a TV or something – surely Apple wouldn’t devote resources to this if it was only for a video iPod.

    I would think there would have to be an iHome or some other central server already kicking around before this would really take off, and I can’t see Apple annoucing both at the same time. To make a long story short, I can’t see this happening soon. It will at some point, though.

  5. Like music, I have a DVD collection. I only have maybe 15-20 DVDs at this point. I simply don’t watch a movie over and over (except for ‘Best in Show’ or ‘Young Frankenstein’). What I would like are music videos.

    I’m hooked on music videos. I have a long list of favorites and I’d love to have many of them so that I can have them on shuffle for viewing. That I’d buy. This gets into the whole home media business.

    My 80gb hard drive on my PowerBook is nearly full as it is. Besides the bandwidth issues mentioned by prior posters the storage issue is another factor.

  6. There’s more content than movies. Music videos correctly pointed out by iSteve but the video content industries have never really tried to sell what they have, lots of shorter content. What about TV, missed an episode – no problem, visitors interrupted that documentary – no problem, great soccer match, you caught the highlights but want to see more…

    Think like iTMS, singles were dead because the industry wanted to sell whole albums. The TV industry does the same, sells collections, a whole series, you can’t pick and choose.

    Movie download times aren’t so bad at the moment, think of competing with the new mail order video rental, order online and wait for the postman, how many hours is that?

  7. shadowself,

    It was a nice layout – but you forgot to mention what kind of compression these various formats would use? Then what’s your downlaod time?

    Perhaps Apple is waiting for H.264 before making a splash in the market? Since H.264 is part of Tiger/QuickTime 7, I suspect any kind of movie iTMS will be tied into Tiger and provide an impetus for folks to move to Tiger.

  8. I mentioned h.264 compression rates (does not have to be specifically h.264, just the typical compression rates h.264 would provide). All the numbers I gave assume everthing is compressed at an h.264 equivalent.

  9. About the best thing Apple could possibly do at this juncture is to bring out an iHome with a MASSIVE HD and allow it to rip movies, music, store pictures and make it easy to stream to multiple TVs& stereos in ones house. Instant movies arent ready yet. QT 7 will help, but as many have already pointed out, broadband is not widespread yet.

  10. It seems to me that the first piece of this puzzle comes with Tiger and the new codec H.### (I don’t remember) that offers High Definition.
    Once that is available, Apple can produce hardware and front end software (like iTunes) to leverage video distribution easily.
    I am not a DVD collector but I could easily rent a film for streaming, or a tv show or music videos. For most of us, streaming video seems the way to go.

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