iPod TV takes off 

Small is good.


Once upon a time having a big TV was a bit of a status symbol. Owning the biggest TV automatically gave you the right to host SuperBowl parties, Grey Cup Parties and hockey playoffs, as well as Oscar Parties, the Olympics, heavyweight fights, and movie nights. There was a bit of a Cold War-style arm’s race in my neighbourhood growing up, and I’m proud to say my family was one of the super powers.

Even now, big TVs are the thing. They couldn’t really sell Plasma or LCD until they made the screens 42 inches, and High Definition ready. Everybody wants a home theatre, so they can replicate the movie theatre experience from the comfort of their rec rooms.

But one small screen is bucking the trend – the video iPod (www.apple.com/ca/itunes/). While nobody really cared whether you could store and show photographs on the first colour screen iPod, the video iPod is taking off. In the first week that the video iPods were available, iTunes sold more than a million shows, and sales have doubled in the last month.

The iTunes music store has become a kind of store for television shows. Initially only a few shows were available, like Desperate Housewives , Lost and a few movie trailers and music videos, but now all the major networks are clamoring to get on board with the latest craze. Old shows like Dragnet and Knight Rider are now available from NBC, as are new shows like Law and Order , and talk shows like The Tonight Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien .

Retailing at just $2 bucks a pop, Apple definitely hit on something big. It doesn’t matter to people that the screen is just 2.5 inches (6.5 cm in diameter), they’re willing to pay for that.

Other companies are getting into the game as well, and are either adapting or creating content for millions of iPod video users. Since it involves the Internet that list of other companies also includes porn companies, but there are also makers of children’s shows, animation studios, movie studios, film festival distributors, and more.

TiVo, which makes a system that records television, is looking at ways to sell content to video iPod owners.

Companies are rushing to copy their competitor. Creative Zen (creative.com), which makes music players that rival the iPod, recently introduced a portable device that boasts more colours and the ability to play a variety of different video formats.

I don’t know if people are going to go for that. While value is important, the beauty of the iTunes/iPod has always been convenience and one-stop shopping, as well as Apple’s intrinsic cool factor. Apple’s iPod was original, and people don’t ooh and ah over knock-offs whatever the price advantage might be.

Let’s face it, since the beginning Apple’s competitors have been trying to one-up the iPod, and many of them have produced players that are superior in many ways, including lower cost, colour screens, the ability to play different formats, longer battery life – but none of them really threatened iPod’s market share.

Nokia has come out with a "musicphone" with a four gigabyte hard-drive, but a lot of people are still waiting for Apple’s cell phone to come out, and it’s only still in the rumour phase of development.

You can bet Apple is already planning a player that downloads playable games, which is the next obvious step for the device, but you can also bet that it will take Sony and Nintendo and Microsoft and Nokia and Creative Zen and all of the other media companies by surprise.

Of course, that’s just me editorializing. Maybe a rival to iPod will emerge in the next few weeks and Apple’s stranglehold on the 19-35 demographic will slip.

But while I’m editorializing, and thinking up new things to do with the iPod, here’s another great idea: If millions of people are willing to pay 2 bucks for a show, and popular shows get cancelled all the time, maybe there are enough fans out there that can continue to finance the shows they love without the help of the networks. Remember, shows like The Family Guy , South Park and Arrested Development were all cancelled at one time, despite the huge amount of support. Star Trek , which is arguably one of the most important shows of all time in terms of fandom, was cancelled after just three seasons. Maybe fans with video iPods could bring back Futurama and The P.J.’s , and Firefly and The Norm McDonald Show without the help of the networks.

Think about it – imagine rounding up a million fans, which is only a small segment of any market, and getting them to pay $24 each for 12 new episodes, or a complete season, of any show. That comes to $24 million, which should be more than enough to finance most of the crap I watch.

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