Arbitrage on Apple TV

We just watched Arbitrage. It’s an amazing film and Richard Gere will probably get an Oscar nod. Susan Sarandon and others are also excellent. But, there are plenty of good critics who can tell you all that.

Just amazing to me as the film itself is that we rented it on our Apple TV for $6.99. It was released in cinemas and “direct to video” simultaneously on Friday. When I saw it on Apple TV this afternoon, I did a double take. I just couldn’t believe it. We were able to watch a newly-released film with top-notch writing, directing, and acting as soon as it came out via streaming to our home for $6.99. If that has happened very often before, it’s news to me.

I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t seen others writing about this. Am I the only one who thinks some sort of entertainment rubicon got crossed this weekend? I certainly hope this is a harbinger of our cinematic future.

Apple in Entertainment

Everyone is wondering what Apple should do with some of its $97 billion. I’m not a tech blogger. And, I’m sure everyone will tell me what a stupid idea this is. But, what the hell?

I think Apple should create digital entertainment content. Gasp!

More specifically, I think Apple should create what we currently think of as television shows. Really amazing ones.

It used to be that HBO was the only content distributor that had become a successful content creator. Now Showtime has done Dexter, Weeds, and Homeland. AMC has done Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead. FX has done Nip/Tuck and Justified. USA Network has done…what they do. DirectTV and Netflix are getting in. And, I would argue that Starz’s first show, Boss, was the best show on television in 2011.

Apple controls iTunes, the iTunes Store, QuickTime, Final Cut Pro (yeah, yeah, I know), Mac OS X, iOS, and Apple TV. The Apple TV “hobby” is actually selling much better than it has in the past. Apple has deep ties to Hollywood. It makes quality products and markets them brilliantly. And, it is sitting on more than $97 billion.

Right now, the iTunes Store and Apple TV have a content problem. Shows air on broadcast or cable first for “free”. At best, they come to iTunes and Apple TV a day or two later. At worst, a premium cable show may not arrive for many months. Apple needs to make iTunes Store offerings “destination television”.

What if several of the best, buzziest shows out there didn’t come to iTunes/Apple TV after a delay but were on iTunes/Apple TV first or even only?

Apple has the technology, connections, focus on quality, cash, and cachet to make us all cable cutters. I just hope it has the desire and drive.

HBO Frustrates Me

Francisca and I have loved numerous HBO shows for years. Entourage continues to be one of our favorites and we like what we’ve seen so far of In Treatment. I say “what we’ve seen so far” because we don’t actually get HBO. We’re watching the first 15 episodes of In Treatment on our Apple TV via the free official podcast and getting Entourage via DVD.

We made a decision to cancel cable (including HBO) last year, because we didn’t watch enough TV in an average month to justify $89.70 a month plus tax. (That happens to be the minimum non-teaser price from our cable company to get a package that includes HBO.)

Many of the shows we watch are available for free via an HD Over-The-Air antenna that works with our HD TiVo. And, most of those that aren’t can purchased for $1.99 either via iTunes and sent to our Apple TV or via Amazon Unbox and sent to our TiVo.

I say “most” because HBO doesn’t sell any of its content on iTunes or Amazon Unbox. I would happily pay HBO $1.99 per 30-minute episode of In Treatmemt, which seems more than reasonable to me, if it would just sell the show digitally. But, it won’t.

Hell, HBO doesn’t even sell old, discontinued content digitally. If you want to watch Six Feet Under from 2001 or Sex in the City from 1998, it means buying or renting DVDs. Is HBO seriously thinking that digital sales would cannibalize DVD revenue for content that old? It strikes me as a company that just doesn’t understand where content delivery is heading.

Up until recently, HBO was by far the best content provider on cable and so could dictate the terms of content delivery. I think that is going to change. Networks like FX, AMC, and Showtime are creating great shows and selling them digitally (though sometimes after a delay from when they aired on cable). The earth is moving under HBO’s feet.

At some point, I think people will tire of paying their HBO Tax and want to get their content when and how they want it. Let’s just hope that HBO wakes up to this fact sooner rather than later, as I really would love to keep watching its shows.

Cable is a Rip-Off

Marco just wrote about his frustrations with paying so much for entertainment cable and getting so little in return. I reached this same boiling point a few months back, though my frustrations extended to Internet access in addition to entertainment cable. So, I killed cable and here was my solution:

  • We switched from a cable modem to Verizon FiOS. It’s a lot faster for about the same money as I was paying for my cable modem. (Admittedly, not everyone can get FiOS, but there is probably a solution that is as good or better than your cable modem for about the same money.)
  • My wife and I already didn’t have a home phone and we still don’t. With mobile phone, Skype, iChat, etc., a home phone is just more money, another number to remember, and another voice mail to check.
  • I bought an HD Over-The-Air Antenna and a TiVo Series 3 (the lower-end model). So, we can now record broadcast content in HD for free. Sweet. As bonus, I can use the TiVo Series 3 to view Amazon Unbox content, which includes a pretty extensive TV and movie selection.
  • I also bought an Apple TV, so we can view content from the iTunes store on our TV.
  • We already had a DVD, so we can still buy or rent DVD content.

So, now we don’t pay for cable at all. We either get our entertainment in broadcast HD for free or we purchase/rent the specific content we want via Amazon Unbox, iTunes Store, or DVD. (If you watch live, non-broadcast sports, this plan won’t work for you. But, that’s not an issue for us.)

The upfront costs of all of this were significant, I won’t deny that. But, the monthly TiVo subscription of $17 is our only monthly payment now for TV entertainment. No cable bill. And, buying/renting the content we can’t get free via broadcast is costing a small fraction of what our cable bill did. Best of all, during the holidays and the writers’ strike, while everyone else is paying $80 or more a month for re-runs and reality shows, we’re only paying $17 for our TiVo.

We’re saving enough money that we’ll probably recoup our initial costs within a year a two. And, I so love not giving the cable company money each month!