Sunday, November 18, 2012

A New Media World

Six years, two months and thirteen days.

That is how long it has been since Steve Jobs took the stage on September 12, 2006 to announce one of the newest members of Apple's i-family of products - the iTV.  On the 9th of January, 2007 I inducted myself into the club of Apple TV early adopters.  I was determined to be among the first to experience what the new product had to offer.

Shortly after placing the order for the Apple TV, I came across Handbrake which facilitated the transcoding of physical DVDs in my personal collection to H.264 encoded files which I subsequently added to iTunes.  Over the following year, each of the Macs the household spent their evenings diligently converting MPEG-2 DVD content into H.264 files.  The files were stored on an external hard disk drive attached to our Power Mac G5 via a speedy Fire Wire 800 connection.

At first, there were many skeptics who attributed this time-consuming encoding endeavor to my admitted obsession with products designed in Cupertino.  However, a brief demonstration was generally all that was required to illustrate the convenience afforded by having access to your entire audio and video media collection without needing to leave the comfort of your couch.  The enthusiasm I had for my new toy drove me to give those five minute demonstrations at every possible opportunity.

Fast forward to present day.  When the second generation device was made available, I quickly replaced the three originals that I had purchased.  When the third generation unit was added with support for 1080p video, we equipped our family room television with one.  The original external hard disk drive has been replaced by a Drobo with a 4 terabyte BeyondRAID volume.  Our media library consists of 8,549 songs; 740 movies; 2,810 television episodes; 482 PDFs, magazines, and books, and 324 iOS apps consuming almost three terabytes of physical disk space.

Aside from the local news or occasional award show, neither my wife, our children nor I watch linear programming.  We have become acclimated to the convenience of being able to watch WHAT you want WHEN you want and HOW you want.  Our kids command the Apple TV with ease as they switch between the content available from our local iTunes library and the content available through our Netflix subscription.  From time to time, we AirPlay video to the Apple TV from apps installed on our iPads or iPhones.

When I look back over the continuum of content consumption I have experienced in my life, I am amazed.  My parents are reticent to embrace modern modes of consuming content.  They remain fixated on legacy, non time-shifted cable television model.  They reluctantly allowed their only VCR to be replaced by a DVD player.  If they do watch a DVD, they watch it all the way through because they cannot seem to remember how to un-pause it - in spite of the hundreds of times I have explained it.  Our children reside on the opposite end of that spectrum as controlling the myriad of DVD players, Apple TVs and iOS devices is second nature to them.

I believe the traditional methods content distribution by conventional broadcasting is on life support.  There may still be some members of Generation X that prefer to receive their content in this manner, but it is unlikely subsequent generations will.  The post Generation X crowd is accustomed to being able to consume content on their terms.

The Videocassette Recorder (VCR) introduced the world to the convenience afforded by time-shifted consumption of video content.  The Digital Video Recorder (DVR) paired the convenience of a VCR with the capacity of a hard disk drive and provided a superior, more intuitive user interface.  The content industry railed against the DVR in much the same way as they did when the VCR was introduced.  Consumers, on the other hand, have embraced the technology and ACNielsen estimates that by February of 2011, 42.2% of US households employ a DVR. 

When Apple introduced the iTunes Music Store on April 28, 2003, they redefined the business of music distribution and, in my opinion, dragged the industry kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century.  Consumers agreed.  Within the first week, over one million songs had been downloaded.  By the fifteenth of December that same year, twenty-five million songs had been downloaded.  And in less than five years from opening, the iTunes Store bested Walmart to become the top music retailer in the United States having sold over four billion songs since its inception.

On the twelfth of October 2006, Apple made music videos, television shows and films available on the iTunes Store.  With that act, they have started the monumental undertaking of transforming the business of video content distribution.  They recognized that electronic downloading is the future of video content distribution.  Steve Jobs described Blu-ray a "bag of hurt" and Sony, the principal inventor of Blu-ray, has admitted Blu-ray is the last format for optical media.

Apple, having never embraced Blu-ray, is among the first computer manufactures to eliminate optical drives from their hardware.  Their final answer to Blu-ray came this year on the seventh of March with the introduction of full 1080p HD content in iTunes and the third generation Apple TV.  Google recognizes the future and has been diligently expanding their Android platform with the Google TV software offering which they are making available to hardware OEM partners.  According to The Verge, Microsoft is set to expand their XBox brand in 2013 with the introduction of a low cost, "XBox TV" device.

I can only hope contemporary video content providers demonstrate they have learned from the quixotic efforts of the labels and acquiesce to consumer preference to purchase and consume digital content at reasonable prices in a manner of their choosing.  Apple, in my opinion recognizes this as they have used their industry clout to convince media companies to make their wares available in the iTunes Store at a reasonable price point - $14.99 for standard definition and $19.99 for "full 1080p HD".

And with that, it is time for me to head over to the "Pre-Order" section of the iTunes store to see what movie I'm going to buy this Tuesday!