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ABC Affiliates Grapple With TV-Show Downloads 480

Carl Bialik writes "By making an episode of 'Lost' available for download last week just half a day after it aired, for a $1.99 charge, 'Apple may have helped open a Pandora's box for the media business,' the Wall Street Journal reports. The president of the association representing ABC's affiliate stations sent a letter to the president of ABC, reading in part, 'It is both disappointing and unsettling that ABC would embark on a new -- and competitive -- network program distribution partnership without the fundamental courtesy of consultation' with its affiliates. While the extent of Apple's TV downloads is limited, the Journal parses the potential impact: 'if downloading episodes over the Internet proves popular, analysts believe Apple will get permission to offer shows with better-fidelity pictures. Any success Apple has won't go unnoticed by other online media powerhouses with expanding video initiatives like Yahoo Inc., Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp., which could all help extend TV downloading to more viewers.'"
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ABC Affiliates Grapple With TV-Show Downloads

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  • Pretty good (Score:3, Informative)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) * on Monday October 17, 2005 @08:19PM (#13813303)
    The resolution is not that high but the bitrate is pretty good... I would say it looks better than VHS, perhaps not quite as good as a digital satellite connection airing the original. I bought the first episode of Lost just to try it out (and see if I really want to buy the DVD set), and it's more than watchable to me.

    I really look forward to when they start offering pay-per-download HDTV shows.
  • Re:....oooooooooor (Score:1, Informative)

    by Hyperlink Processor ( 923293 ) on Monday October 17, 2005 @08:39PM (#13813405)
    ...And get better quality.
  • by shmlco ( 594907 ) on Monday October 17, 2005 @08:55PM (#13813492) Homepage
    "I wouldn't be surprised if the guilds got involved, too."

    Too late... Unions seek video iPod residuals []

  • Re:....oooooooooor (Score:3, Informative)

    by Adult film producer ( 866485 ) <> on Monday October 17, 2005 @09:00PM (#13813513)
    Guess you're not on the right torrent sites... public trackers like mininova/suprnova/etc are as slow as you described but there are plenty of ratio'ed/private sites that tv shows/movies can be downloaded from very quickly. Last night I grabbed episode 8 of Rome in under 15 minutes, maxed out my connection at 500KB/sec. Try signing up for or or something like that, if they're accepting new users.
  • Re:Choice (Score:5, Informative)

    by btobin ( 906080 ) on Monday October 17, 2005 @09:04PM (#13813532)
    don't tell me iTunes has 90% because it's just that good

    Itunes has 90% of the market because they have more music than anybody else. That's the thing about the long tail. You have to have A LOT of stuff in order to capture that last 50% of the market. Example: Last night I was looking for Julie Miller on Yahoo (my service of choice because I'm cheap). Two songs. Itunes has her whole catalog, four CDs worth.

  • by joelsanda ( 619660 ) on Monday October 17, 2005 @09:05PM (#13813536) Homepage

    I've never seen basic cable cost over $40 per month, and digital satellite companies have plans starting at $30 per month. I'm all for "sticking it to the man", but exaggerating prices at every opportunity doesn't make us sound like a reasonable group.

    His pricing is right on with what I pay. I signed up for $50 a month basic cable that became $60 a month after taxes. Add to that $15 for a digital box so I can get On Demand, toss in the broadband, and it's $100.00 a month. It would be $15 less if I didn't have digital, but if I want HBO or any similar channel it's another $15.

    Not complaining - no one forced me to get cable. But the pricing he quoted is consistent with what I pay for Comcast.

  • Re:Cost of the DVD's (Score:5, Informative)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Monday October 17, 2005 @09:17PM (#13813592)

    I certianly wouldn't want to buy any of these right now, sure the bit rate is good for the iPod video, or even a computer screen, but blowing them up on a TV must suck!

    Most TV's have worse resolution than the average monitor. These are acceptable, but not great for either.

    Combine that with the fact that an average season (22-24 episodes) would cost $43.78 - $47.76 and I would much rather spend that money buying something that can be displayed on my TV!

    Full seasons cost less than the price of all their episodes, just as full albums cost less than the price of all their songs. These episodes do end up undercutting DVDs, but not by a lot. The strength of this offering is in the instant gratification, easier portability, and granularity. Just as many people want to buy just that one song they like from an album, many people also want to buy just that one episode they missed or a TV show.

    I assume the DRM is FairPlay

    So they say, although seeing as FairPlay is an Apple trademark term, FairPlay could be something different for video than audio. I expect it will be the same or very similar and hopefully, locked down to the same degree,

  • by prockcore ( 543967 ) on Monday October 17, 2005 @09:51PM (#13813726)
    Desperate Housewives commands $350,000 for a 30 second spot. There are 17 minutes of commercials in 1 episode, which means there are 34 commercials in each episode.

    That comes to $11.9 million per episode. That means 6 million people need to purchase each episode in order to match what ABC currently gets from advertisers.

    Somehow I think the people talking about the death of broadcast TV are a bit pre-mature.
  • Re:Choice (Score:2, Informative)

    by Monkelectric ( 546685 ) <slashdot@mon k e l e c t r i c . com> on Monday October 17, 2005 @10:11PM (#13813814)
    The difference here is that iTunes is a very good product,

    I beg to differ ... this is not a troll... I saw the video ipod on the apple site and thought, holy f*** thats sexy, I need one of those. So before running out and buying one (pre-ordering ... anyways) I decided to try itunes, on my PC. I *LOVE* the way it organizes music. I want to play OGGs and FLAC on it, but I'm willing to give apples formats the benefit of the doubt. I compared the lossless encoder to FLAC, the performance was within like 0.1% of flac. GREAT. However, it locks up constantly, randomly. I put in a CD that had the ever loving crap scratched out of it. Itunes silently imported it despite the problems with the cd (Yes I turned on the accurate rip option). This is unacceptable, if the CD is damaged, I want to know. Lastly, Itunes *SHOULD* be able to manage lossless files on your computer, and upload encoded files to your Ipod. I know it would be slow the first time.

    So anyways, that was my experience with itunes over the weekend... gonna stick with my korean iAudio player which the sound quality is incredible on, plays a ton of formats already ...

  • Re:Choice (Score:5, Informative)

    by badasscat ( 563442 ) <> on Monday October 17, 2005 @10:16PM (#13813836)
    What on *earth* have the execs at the affiliates being doing the past few years that they've missed the fact that the music business in is absolute turmoil over digital distribution? They can hardly claim that they were so busy producing Reality and Car-Crash TV shows that they didn't realise the inevitability that they were next and Hollywood is going to follow.

    You (along with everyone else) have apparently completely forgotten about the concept of VOD. In fact, there is nothing new whatsoever about downloading TV shows! I've got about 50 different channels on my cable box that allow me to do this whenever I want to, and at higher resolutions than iTMS.

    The downloading, and the idea of digital distribution, is not new at all. And you're way, way off if you think the affiliates have not been working with the networks on this for years now. The only thing that's new about iTunes and TV shows is the act of putting it on an iPod. Is this really so revolutionary? I would argue that it's not. True, the iPod has never had video before, but plenty of other devices have, and I've been able to download episodes of my favorite TV shows for years now over my cable company's digital VOD system, transfer them to my PC and put them on whatever video device I want to.

    Now, you can say "but it's going to bring downloading to the masses!" Well again, VOD is already quite popular. Almost everybody has it (whether they even know it or not) and all that's missing is a quick and easy way to transfer those shows to a portable device (sans PC). But that's a trivial thing to add - all cable boxes these days have high speed data ports of one type or another, and the cable industry's just been waiting for a reason to use them. Well, this might be it - if the cable industry feels truly threatened by iTunes, watch for them to open the floodgates.

    I'm not arguing that what Apple's doing isn't a good thing or that it won't push the industry forward. But I don't see how downloading episodes of Lost for $1.99 a piece at 320x240 resolution beats what I've got on my cable box, which has thousands of TV shows available at any given moment for free. (Or at least for no more than I pay for standard cable service.)

    In the future, you're more likely to keep your cable company and use them for downloads than you are to switch to iTunes. The TV networks have been pushing VOD forward for years and while iTMS may hasten the transition, the cable and network TV industry are pretty well prepared.
  • Re:Choice (Score:5, Informative)

    by Macgrrl ( 762836 ) on Monday October 17, 2005 @10:58PM (#13814035)

    As far as I see it, the only anti-competitive behavior apple's shown is their proprietary encrypted-AAC fileformat.

    AFAIK this was a requirement by the record labels before they would permit digital distribution of the music files. So is the anti-competitive behaviour Apple's or the RIAA cartel's?

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) * on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @12:36AM (#13814460)'re going to tell me how Apple is going to cram a 35 inch screen inside your iPod case.

    That's where the Mac MINI with proper home theater output comes into play. I don't like portable video either but would love a mac HTPC. You can already use the mini in just such a way but it's more cumbersome and involves external adaptors.
  • Re:Quality (Score:3, Informative)

    by Spy Hunter ( 317220 ) * on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @12:37AM (#13814466) Journal
    I bought Lost. The quality of the videos is merely okay. It's definitely watchable even on a regular-size TV, nothing like the old postage-stamp RealPlayer clips of yore. But it really pales in comparison to the BitTorrent version. Plus the BitTorrent version is widescreen. In Apple's version background details are often blurred (especially busy jungle and ocean wave backgrounds) and color banding is occasionally noticable.

    The color banding problem is made much much worse by something which could be an encoding error or an iTunes bug, I'm not sure which: Each episode is displayed with completely different brightness. I have to adjust my video card's brightness and gamma settings before playing each episode. Not only is it annoying to watch something that is too dark or washed out, but H.264 plays a lot of tricks when it compresses video. If your brightness is set wrong artifacts and color banding that you otherwise wouldn't notice will start popping up everywhere. You would be amazed how much setting the proper gamma and brightness can improve a heavily compressed video clip. Yet iTunes messes it up totally.

    That isn't the worst thing about playing the videos, though. Basically, iTunes sucks as a video player (at least on Windows). The UI for video is wacky and excrutiatingly slow. Dragging the seek bar is an exercise in frustration. Videos can't be watched until they are completely downloaded (and the downloads are slow). Downloading purchased items while watching a video causes terrible skipping (and once, a crash).

    I expected much better quality software from Apple. To me it seems as if iTunes 6 was rushed out the door (especially coming out only a month after iTunes 5!) when Apple finalized its deal with ABC, perhaps unexpectedly early. Hopefully iTunes 7 will revamp the video parts of iTunes. Certainly they will need to do something before they open a real movie store, as I'm certain they are planning.

  • Re:Choice (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ahnteis ( 746045 ) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @02:49AM (#13814956)
    I'm fairly certain that the RIAA required DRM, not proprietary file formats. (looks at all the other music stores which use DRM but in an openly licenseable format.)
  • by zxsqkty ( 869685 ) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @02:52AM (#13814966)

    And it still has the shortcoming of only being watchable on a screen that, at it's best, is less than a quarter the size of the smallest laptop I've used in the last 5 years.

    "... use an optional S-video cable with iPod to play VJ on your TV. You can perform the same big-screen feat with iPod photo slideshows. Oh, and you can do it all from across the room using the optional Universal Dock and handy new Apple remote." []

  • Re:Choice (Score:3, Informative)

    by mr100percent ( 57156 ) * on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:46AM (#13815653) Homepage Journal
    No, they are yours. Jobs specifically said so. You own the file, but the Fairplay just won't let you copy it to more than 5 PCs/Macs (you can to a few more iPods), and you can't burn it.
  • Re:Choice (Score:3, Informative)

    by dave1212 ( 652688 ) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @10:48AM (#13817191) Homepage
    Just use the QuickTime Player app, works fine. Also you can try changing the video prefs in iTunes to view in a separate window.

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger