My High Def Life: I want an iTunes subscription

by Erica Sadun

Steve Jobs has gone on the record saying "no music subscriptions" on iTunes. So what about TV and Movies instead? iTunes has so much content these days that I'd probably be willing to ditch cable and go entirely to an AppleTV lifestyle with an all-you-can-eat video subscription. Sure there are downsides but there's a lot of upsides as well.

These days, iTunes has as many "channels" as I get over cable and more that I do not. Between iTunes and my free-to-air ATSC, my family would have access to all the shows we currently watch plus a huge repository of back episodes and new shows, all available on demand. That's very attractive.

What would have to change is our notion of "appointment television". Yes, we could still watch Heroes live because it's an NBC show but Project Runway and Battlestar would have to wait until they showed up at the store. Sometimes this can take several days or up to a week after episodes air. We couldn't watch them live and then run over to Television Without Pity to chat. An iTunes subscription model has a built-in "watch it when we have it, not when it's live or convenient" limitation.

Adding movies into the mix makes it even more attractive. It would make family movie night a lot easier if we could just decide on the spur of the moment what we wanted to see (taking into account the download time) rather than having to pop out to the library a few days in advance to pick up a DVD from it's already picked-over collection.

Yes, we could do this all now. We could ditch cable today and do an a la carte iTunes replacement. But buying item-by-item gets expensive quickly. For a recent car trip, I let my kids download 10 TV episodes. And once we bought those 10 episodes, they were ours forever. They got stale pretty fast.

For just our standard cable reception (channels 2-99, no premium channels, mostly public access for channels larger than 60), we are currently paying about $60-odd dollars a month. We'd happily ditch that for a less expensive iTunes video subscription at $39.99 a month even with giving up live TV if that money bought us lots of fresh content on-demand.


Christopher Mackay
2007-05-04 11:48:34
Sounds great. Can't wait for TV & Movies to hit the Canadian iTunes store...
2007-05-04 12:37:18
Last time I checked, you can purchase a season's worth of just about any TV show carried by iTunes. Or if you want to pay a fixed amount and get a certain number of downloads for that, you can go out and buy yourself an iTunes gift card.

I guess none of those are what you're looking for.

Is what you're seeking an unlimited amount of downloads for a fixed price?

Or just cheaper pricing on a per-item basis?

If so, I don't think that either of those is in the cards for iTunes for a long time to come.

The only thing I can see that might possibly be in the future is a pay-per-view "subscription", but I can't imagine that anyone in their right mind would go for such a thing (at least not after they wanted to see it a second time and had to pay to do so all over again), and Apple would be crazy to trade off the right of the consumer to pay a higher price and be able to watch the content ad nauseum, versus having the consumer pay a significantly smaller amount and only watch it once (or a few times).

Let's see how well that model works with Zune customers.

As to all this uproar about "subscriptions", as I understand things it is only an accounting treatment of the revenue from the AppleTV and iPhone -- nothing to do with any media the consumer might buy from Apple. When people heard the word "subscription" used in the recent earnings conference call, they didn't wait until the end of the sentence, but cast in stone in their minds that this meant that subscription-based purchases are coming to iTunes in the near future.

I don't think so.

2007-05-04 12:38:25
I completely agree. Hopefully Steve Jobs recognizes this and moves Apple in this direction. The only thing I could see keeping my satellite for would be for sporting or other live type events. But then I would be able to get rid of other things that I'm paying for...
Erica Sadun
2007-05-04 12:40:08
Dave: Yes, I'm talking about a Zune-style all-you-can-eat subscription. When your subscription lapses so do your listening or viewing privileges.
2007-05-04 13:43:51
While I have absolutely zero interest in any sort of music subscription service, I am totally with you on TV and movies. I don't rewatch TV and Movies often enough to make me very concerned about owning them, and the a la carte price is simply too much for me to really purchase too much online. Some sort of affordable, all you can eat subscription service for video would please me greatly.
2007-05-06 20:36:51
If they could have something similar to Netflex or cable where you can download it within a few moments and have it at the ready. Maybe. You asked the questions...Would we own the show? How many times could we play it? Certain times etc. This would have to be worked out. This is why Netflix is still the best for me. I can keep a copy of the Sopranos for 2 months if I want to and watch it when my schedule is conducive.
2007-05-09 16:30:49
I think I agree with most people, and I think Apple will eventually move in this direction, of buy the musice, rent the TV / movies. An option to buy would be nice, for something I'd like to keep. If live TV (events, sports, news, etc.) were available on iTunes who'd need cable? Especially if they priced it right.

I think Apple is smart enough to recognize there are difference between TV, movies, and music; and how people access and keep them. And, they've been very smart about moving with the market. I think we'll see some kind of iTunes subscription plan for TV/movies.

2007-05-10 14:13:09
I made the switch in January. I canceled my DirecTV/Tivo account, and
I get my TV from iTunes and Netflix. As you point out, it has a few
snags, but I'm happy with it overall.

I think I was paying $70/month before, and my iTunes bill is averaging
about $50/month (I suspect it will end up being more like $40 as I buy
in seasons, rather than individual shows), so although those $2 shows
seem expensive on top of cable, it turns out to save me money. That
wasn't my goal, but it's a nice bonus.

I'm probably not a representative viewer. I don't mind the release
lag, I tended to lag behind with Tivo anyway. I also don't tend to
archive the shows, there's always plenty of new stuff to watch.

I am looking forward to higher quality encodings, since they're
pushing the HD Apple TV, but I'm not in a hurry. I can't wait to
watch shows on that tasty iPhone display!

2007-05-10 16:00:42
Subscription for music? No thanks. But subscription for TV shows (and maybe movies, though that would probably be separate)? I would pay for that so fast I'd probably be their first customer.

What do I care about "owning" a TV show I download? I'll probably never watch it again. If I want it forever and ever, I'll buy the DVD set. The current business model is completely wrong, and is the main reason I don't get very many shows from iTunes.

2007-06-22 11:55:40
Actually, my wife and I are really enjoying our Zune Marketplace subscription. We're not very interested in video at the moment. With the cost of cds and having had tapes and LPs in the past, I like $15 a month all you can eat. We've already listened to hundreds of dollars worth of music from modern artists, to Frank Sinatra, to old Bill Cosby albums. We now have the freedom to sample all kinds of music that we previously would have been apprehensive to pay for. I hope this business model succeeds. We have a PC in the armoire connected via optical cable to stereo and we can stream or download and put it on her Zune. Assuming a new $250 player every two years and $15 a month for subscription, you could go back and forth between Microsoft, Apple, or even Sandisk every year or two if you didn't like the other vendors service or hardware and be averaging $25 per month for all your music needs. It may die, or it may be the way of the future. I'm old enough to remember when TV and water was free! If people will pay for water and cable they may subscribe to music too.