Apple TV, iCloud, and The Future

When Steve Jobs introduced iCloud at WWDC, he announced a new thing called iTunes in the Cloud.  In essence, iTunes now makes all of the music that you purchased from iTunes in the past available to download onto any iOS device or Mac you own. One problem though: how much music have you bought from iTunes? In recent years, probably a decent amount.  But in the past, perhaps not as much. Problem solved: he then announced iTunes Match, a $25 a year service that takes your iTunes library and matches the music you own (legally acquired or not) and matches it with the high quality iTunes files.

This makes one thing possible: if your hard drive goes down, your iTunes will be backed up in their cloud services. Thanks Apple, nice touch.

Today, quietly, Apple updated the software in the second generation Apple TVs and allowed for any iTunes TV Shows purchases you ever made to be streamed to the Apple TV over the internet.  Kind of like Netflix, but with content you've already purchased.

Presumably, after more deals are made, iTunes Movies will be next.

Before we press on, allow me to explain to you what I do on a regular basis now. Throughout my life, before things like Netflix and Hulu, I purchased a lot of content on optical discs (DVDs). I got a little addicted to the 4-for-$20 deals at Blockbuster. We bought (or usually, received as gifts) TV seasons of shows that we enjoy.  And pretty soon, we had a nice little library of DVDs that had to find a place to sit in our tiny apartment.

One thing has struck me as strange throughout the past couple of years though: why do we do this? You know where my collection of CDs is? I have no idea. I really don't know.  Every piece of audio I own has been ripped into my iTunes library. Prior to Amazon Cloud Player, Google Music, and iTunes in the Cloud if my hard drive crashed, I'd consider my library of music gone. Not because I don't have the physical CDs (for a lot of them, I do), but because the amount of effort to find and rip would be too much to go through.  From the time when I first learned of digital music players (and particularly, the one that could hold ALL of my library in my pocket...iPod), I knew that optical media was going away. And it was going away quickly.

So, recently, I've been doing the same to my video collection. Slowly, but surely, I ripped all 9 seasons of the King of Queens onto my computer. It took time, yes, but it was well worth it. Because here is the process I used to have to go through to watch an episode:

  1. Decide I want to watch a random episode of the King of Queens.
  2. Go get a season from the bookshelf.
  3. Open the box.
  4. Find a disc (usually three or four per box)
  5. Put it in the DVD player.
  6. Wait for the opening menus (that don't allow you to fast forward) to end.
  7. Pick an episode.
  8. Press play.
But here's how I usually watched an episode: TiVo. If there wasn't a recent episode to watch on TiVo, I just didn't bother.
Last year, Apple introduced iTunes Home Sharing, allowing the new Apple TVs (and an iOS device on the same Wireless network) to access your iTunes library. Thanks to my handy ripping, here is my new process:
  1. Decide I want to watch a random episode of the King of Queens.
  2. Change the input of the TV to Apple TV.
  3. Choose an episode.
  4. Press Play
Because of this, I literally haven't used TiVo in months.

When it comes to personal digital content, I am convinced that this is the only way going forward.

And as always, there's a catch: Apple TV must connect to an iTunes library. Which means that your computer must be on, awake, and iTunes open in order for Apple TV to see it.

So this update today: big news or small news? BIG news. Why? Because now, you can watch anything you purchased through iTunes anywhere.  At the airport and forgot to sync that TV show you've been meaning to watch? No problem, download it from iTunes.  You bought it, right? You have the right to watch it. FINALLY.

But there's a catch: how many TV Shows have you purchased from iTunes?  Not many, I'd bet. Why? Lots of reasons: too expensive, crazy copy protection, only digital forms (can't lend them to people, etc), and more. Instead, you'd do what I did.  Buy it at Target on sale, rip it all and THEN access it. Or if you didn't know how to do that, you'd still be using those silly old things called DVD players.

Which leads me to my proposal: iTunes Match for TV and Movies. PLEASE, Apple.

Here's how iTunes Match works (from what we know).  Apple went to the Music companies and asked for it.  They most likely said no. Then Apple said, "We'll pay you large sums of money.  You're not getting a dime from people stealing music now, how about we do this and give you large sums of money?" To which the music companies thought, "Good point." This is the same reason Netflix has a bunch of content you may never watch.  Netflix approached the studios and said, "Listen, you've got content collecting dust on shelves not making ANY money.  How about we write you a check and you let us stream it?" To which the studios thought, "Good point."

This needs to happen with iTunes TV Shows and Movies. I own a bunch of video content in optical form. And I definitely don't want to have to buy it again. BUT, if I could pay a yearly fee (probably more that $25) and could give it the bar codes to everything I own and then have that content on any iOS device I want, whenever I want, however I want, it'd be worth every dime.

The studios would get more money than I've already paid them, and for those who stole episodes of this and that...the studios would be getting something from someone they weren't getting anything from. Everyone wins.

Every time you go to Target, more and more optical content is priced cheaper and cheaper. Why? Because Netflix and Hulu are popular. And because it makes less and less sense as time goes on.  Netflix doesn't have the King of Queens or the Big Bang Theory. And if I stop paying my subscription, Netflix goes away. I need a way to access my content that I own, in as convenient a way as I have through Netflix and Hulu.

Please, Apple, hear my cry.