Well everyone likes to speculate about the next big move by Apple. And lately the word on the street is not about the rumored “tablet” that everyone has been talking about for over a year now. No, this speculation is not about a device, but instead about digital media distribution.
You could be forgiven just five years ago for saying “I don’t care what Apple is doing” and call it a day, but if your business has anything to do with digital media, such indifference to Apple’s moves could cost you dearly. It could cost you in terms of missed opportunities or worse, an utterly destroyed business model. And so, this is why Apple receives such enormous press over things that they haven’t even done yet. No one wants to be caught off guard.
The latest rumors out there point to some kind of potential streaming media service provided by Apple, mainly sparked by their recent acquisition of Lala – a streaming music service provider.
But I believe there is something much, much bigger going on here than just streaming music and it ties the tablet, the streaming services, and a whole slew of other rumors into one colossal move by Apple in the coming year.
Let’s begin with the current iTunes model. Since it was first launched as a music download store, iTunes has expanded enormously to include all kinds of media downloads beyond music and now offers movies, podcasts, TV shows, games and mobile applications (for the iPhone/Touch), and lightweight books (comics, album includes, etc.).
It is iTunes that is at the heart of Apple’s distribution model. The iPhone App store is simply an extension of iTunes.
There is one flaw in the current iTunes model, however that has been preventing iTunes from becoming what could be one of the largest media networks in the world. It is an advertising model. Everything that you obtain via iTunes is downloaded, saved to your computer and consumed behind the walls of your home network or mobile device. There has been no way to measure what the industry calls “engagement” with the movies, TV shows, and Podcasts that you purchase.
So how can iTunes fix that? Simple. You stream the content instead of downloading it.
But we’re talking about huge amounts of data and server processing power to make such a thing happen, right? I mean after all, this is why up until now this hasn’t been attempted on such a large scale aside from say, Google and their YouTube service. Enter rumor (now fact) #3, Apple’s new and massive data center project.
Even if Apple were to release the rumored “iTablet” and it turned out to be a huge success, it still would not solve the advertising model problem. But releasing a hardware device by itself has never been Apple’s style. Instead, you can expect Apple to announce this new device along side something even larger – an entirely new digital media distribution platform to support it.
How does this turn Podcasting into Broadcasting, you ask? Well this is just one tiny of example of the massive shift this is going to cause. Right now, if you produce a Podcast you package it up, put it on a server and the consumers download it on-demand.
In the new model of streaming, the Podcast is not downloaded. It is broadcast. And in doing so all kinds of things become possible. You can insert advertising, you can measure engagement metrics, and yes – you can even do a live broadcast right from the palm of your hand with your iPhone to hundreds or even thousands of online viewers (something that Apple has just made possible with their API that Ustream is now harnessing).
Yes, 2010 is going to be an interesting year for Apple and for digital media. And this only scratches the surface of what is to come.