Can Apple’s iTunes Store resurrect old time TV?

“Recently, I was invited by friends to attend the Friends of Old Time Radio Convention held last Friday at the Holiday Inn across from Newark Airport. The convention culminates each night with the live performance of three old radio episodes by surviving radio performers of the era,” Richard Menta writes for

“Sharing my table was one of the performers Jeff David, who’s voice is more recognizable to contemporary audiences by his TV commercial and voice over work (Jeff today is one of the in show announcers for Dateline and has hosted numerous PBS and History Channel documentaries). Also at the table were husband and wife team Fred and Ellen Berney who were video taping the evenings performances for posterity. Their business, Satellite Media Productions, does a lot of restoration work on old content including video. It was there Fred told me about his latest opportunity,” Menta writes.

“Fred was approached by a producer recently to digitize 27 high-quality kinescopes of a 1950’s show he developed years ago called Captain Zero. Fred described the show as an American Dr. Who released a decade before that famed show appeared on British television,” Menta writes. “The producer told Fred that he wants to sell the shows for $10 an episode, a price which Fred pointed out was far too much for the market. The end goal is to put these shows on DVD and sell them, but $270 for a single season of a 1950’s show that few people remember is a bit unrealistic in my opinion as well as Fred’s.”

“I asked Fred about Net distribution and asked him what he knew of the iPod Video which just hit stores a few days earlier. He had read about the iPod Video, but was unaware that iTunes was selling first run episodes of Lost and Desperate Housewives for the new portable unit,” Menta writes. “I told Fred that there was a window of opportunity here for old programs like Captain Zero. So far, Apple has only come to an agreement with Disney to deliver just a few of its popular TV shows to the iPod. All of the other TV studios are taking a wait and see attitude to see if this flies. What this means is that the shows presently on iTunes have little competition with regards to reaching a potentially large new iPod audience.”

“If Captain Zero was to be made available to iTunes immediately it would be one of just an extremely limited library of content. This would make the episodes very visible on that site as opposed to being lost in a white noise of thousands of programs (which will eventually happen if iTunes video sales prove successful),” Menta writes. “I said to Fred that this producer could make far more money at $0.99 an episode through this distribution medium iTunes created, because early entrance into iTunes can generate significant volume, even if most of the sales are stimulated through nothing more than a camp curiosity by the consumer. The first step is to get this producer to re-think his $10 an episode plan.”

“Fred asked me how he could go about investigating this. I told him he would have to call Apple direct as I have no idea of their process or even of their strategy to expand iTunes’ video content. I suspect that Apple will be open to the idea of older content as they have proven quite open to the independent music community for audio tracks for iTunes,” Menta writes. “I hope Fred looks into my suggestion. It could be the start of something big.”

More in the full article here.

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  1. No kidding. Twilight Zone, and lots of other shows would sell quickly. I’d buy them EVEN WITHOUT THE iPod Video player. That’s a factor…If the content is good enough…why not? Buy the content and the player comes later. I can play it in Quicktime now.

  2. This is where I posted a video capable iPod would go, one week before the announcement.

    It makes a lot more sense that full length movies on a 2.5″ screen with only 2 hours of battery life. Thirty minute shows (22 without commercials) would be perfect.

    Why? Because you could see the entire program in the span of a commute. Let’s see, how many commuters are there in the US, the US & Europe, the US, Europe and Japan?

  3. There are some old TV shows that I would like on my computer, Have Gun Will Travel, Dobie Gillis, Ernie Kovacs and many of the old cartoons, including the PC incorrect Loonie Toons (Warner Brothers).

  4. 1960s Batman, 1950s Superman, heck, why not go all the way back to the old Flash Gordon, or even the Captain America serials. I’m not an American, but it seems to me the US could use a Captain America right about now.

  5. …the original Star Trek series, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Stooges, Superman, Looney Tunes, Dragnet, Adam-12, Gilligan’s Island, I Dream of Genie, Poilce Squad, Space: 1999, The Brady Bunch, Battlestar Galactica.

    There’s a baker’s dozen that I think would have a reasonably large market. I know that I’d be interested in whole seasons of the first four I listed, and I think they’re all old enough that they don’t earn a great deal of money anymore in syndication.

    Cannibalizing DVD sales strikes me as the only concern the rights holders might reasonably have, and I don’t think that at 320×240 that’s really much of a concern. If we’re talking about 6 half-hour episodes at either $1.00 each from iTMS or on DVD at standard quality, people will either pay more for the DVD or pay LESS to rent/borrow the DVD then rip/convert to iPod format.

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