Zune and NBC sitting in a tree

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Given the amount of time I spend tanning before my computer monitor, banging out one story or another, I have nothing but sympathy for people who earn their daily loaf in similar fashion. But every so often, I glance at a headline in some mainstream-media rag and I can’t prevent my eyes from heading due North and taking a turn around the perimeter of their host sockets. Take this gem from the Los Angeles Times:

TV Downloads The New Competitive Terrain For Microsoft’s Zune, Apple’s iPod

Good lord, where to begin.

Before examining the word “competitive,” the background:

As you may have heard, NBC Universal, still snitting at Apple about pricing issues, remains absent from the iTunes Store. Rather than helping themselves to their fair share of the buck-99 charged for each episode by iTunes, they’ve chosen to give their stuff away on the NBC site and the Hulu video service. It’s also available for sale for that same $1.99 per episode from Amazon’s UnBox service, a service incompatible with the Macintosh and the world’s most popular media player, the iPod.

Today, Microsoft announced that its Zune Marketplace would begin selling TV programming and guess with whom Zune’s sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. Right, NBC Universal. And why? Because, much like Microsoft was more than happy to give music companies a portion of the profit from every Zune sale, the Redmond crew responded to NBC’s demands for variable pricing with a sycophantic “Please sir, may I have another?”

So, back to the “competitive” thing.

Microsoft has sold around 2 million Zunes—owning about 4-percent of the portable media player market. The iPod has a 71-percent share of this market and, the last time I checked, Apple has sold just over one jillion of the things. Oh, and then there’s the iPhone, which is reasonably well on its way to selling 10 million units by year’s end.

NBC is the sole big network to link arms with the Zune Marketplace. Viacom brands Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and VH1 are also on board. But the kind of big names found at the iTunes Store—CBS, ABC, Fox, PBS, FX, or Showtime—MIA.

And by whose definition is this competition?

As it turns out, Microsoft’s. The Zune’s director of marketing, Jason Reindorp, who, like many marketing people, gets paid to tell us 1 + 1 = 7, says that now that the Zune Marketplace is selling TV episodes, it’s “now at parity with Apple. This gives us a chance to stop chasing Apple and show how our strategy is different.”

And if by “different” he means “making deals with entities just as desperately lame as we are” I suppose he’s right.

Damn, there go my eyes again.

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