Upcoming Apple event could mean more than movies

Apple had just completed announcing updates to its iMac and Mac mini offerings Wednesday, when talk turned to the next Apple product announcement—a press event slated for next week in San Francisco. All signs—and Apple’s own invitation to the September 12 event— point to the company taking the wraps off a long-rumored movie download store. But tech and entertainment analysts believe there could be more to Apple’s press event than just that announcement.

“One thing is clear,” said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at JupiterResearch. “[Apple] wanted to make sure the new [hardware] products announced [Wednesday] were not lost in next week’s news.”

Apple mailed out invitations to the September 12 event earlier this week. The invitations show Hollywood-style floodlights criss-crossing the Apple logo with the words “It’s Showtime” emblazoned across the invitation.

“With the ‘It’s Showtime’ invitation, it’s clear we are going to see Apple get into more long form video,” Gartenberg said. “The announcement should be pretty big.”

Roger Kay, president of market research firm Endpoint Technologies Associates, agreed but took Apple’s movie motif a bit farther. “Clearly it’s about movies of some sort, but that doesn’t only mean a store,” he said. “It could be hardware or software.”

That could mean what Kay referred to as “the real video iPod”—a device that has a better screen (possibly even a widescreen) and more storage. As for potential software, Kay said such products could include a reorganization of the iTunes Music Store with better infrastructure, delivering a more satisfying experience for users.

More than iPods

Some analysts contend that Apple’s strategy could even go beyond a video-capable iPod and a downloadable movie store to include a set-top or wireless device for the living room. Adding fuel to that particular fire were comments made by Apple CEO Steve Jobs at Apple’s annual shareholder meeting in April. When one shareholder requested that the company build a personal video recorder that could record television programs and share media on the computer, Jobs responded, “We hear you loud and clear.”

So have industry analysts. “It would not surprise me if Apple came out with an end-to-end solution,” JupiterResearch’s Gartenberg said.

Whether wired or wireless, such a device would have a very clear purpose, analysts say—to deliver downloaded digital content from iTunes to your television. Endpoint’s Kay noted that Apple is already looking beyond capturing television, so the company will most likely skip that process altogether.

“In the long term, TV tuners are toast,” Kay said. “Everything will be delivered through a digital distribution system in the future. TV will be delivered the same way that Internet video is now.”

With its music and television distribution system, analysts think that Apple is uniquely positioned to take advantage of not only movies, but any type of digital content.

“Of all the companies, they have to be one of best,” said Tim Bajarin, president of market research firm Creative Strategies. “I think it’s wrong to be hung up on movies, when the issue is digital distribution of content.”

Just Disney?

It has been widely reported that negotiations between Apple and the Hollywood studios have been strained. This could mean that a movie store launched next week could kick off with Disney as the only major studio delivering movies. However, such a scenario does not worry analysts at all.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” said Gartenberg. “Look at what they have now in terms of network television coverage. Look at the amount of songs they have now. This is a case where you have to put a stake in the ground at some point. They have shown ability to get people on board very quickly.”

“It’s really irrelevant whether they launch with one studio or six,” Bajarin agreed. “This is the future of movie distribution.”

In fact, when Apple first starting selling television shows last year, Disney’s ABC was the first and only network available. It took Apple less than 20 days to sell 1 million videos, which got the attention of more networks.

Apple will need to show similar success with a movie store and attract studios quickly to keep consumer interest, according to one analyst.

“I think it’s going to be tough to sustain for a long time,” said Gartner/G2 Research vice president Mike McGuire. “[Apple has] set an expectation that whatever they do is not just another knock-off of something everyone else is doing—it’s usually something unique.”

As Apple moves forward with plans for digital movie, television and music domination, the company will inevitably end up needing more partners—this could be a potential problem for a company that is notorious for needing complete control.

“The digital living room is still in the future. If they can consolidate like they did with music it would be another win for them,” Endpoint’s Kay said. “The issue for Apple is that it will be harder and harder to go it alone. That means partners, but less control.”

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