It was only October of last year when Apple announced that it would begin selling TV shows on the iTunes Music Store. In that time, the store has grown from offering content from just two Disney-owned properties, to include programming from more than 40 channels. Yet despite its explosive growth, several gaps remain in the iTunes Music Store television lineup, despite the store’s ability to both increase a shows over the air ratings and help networks build relationships with new customers.
Joe Fleischer, chief marketing officer with Big Champagne, an online media tracking company, notes that content providers who aren’t selling shows on iTunes do so at their own peril.
“Everybody needs to be making content available as aggressively as they can, because there are certainly people fulfilling that demand by getting it from a friend, sharing over IM or hard drives or whatever,” Fleisher told Macworld . “Anyone can have whatever they want, what’s important is to create a relationship with a customer now. I think fairly soon the street will probably punish companies that aren’t making a very concerted effort in that direction.”
While Fleischer notes that bringing a show to iTunes won’t reduce its presence on P2P networks or from being traded online, nor will it do any damage.
“Certainly iTunes does not contribute to piracy. iTunes is what could separate the film entertainment industry from what happened to music. That’s really positive and a really important step. I think film entertainment seems to be grasping it quickly, and that bodes well for them. Instead of constantly trying to dial the consumers back, it seems the film entertainment industry is trying to reach out to the consumer, at least they are making an effort to see what the consumers like. It’s a positive step and is certainly not hurting.”
Indeed, networks seem to have embraced the iTunes Music Store. There are now more than 200 shows offered from iTunes, including titles from some of the most popular programs on television, such as CSI, Lost, Desperate Housewives, and The Daily Show . All of the major broadcast networks—ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC—are onboard, selling programs for $1.99 per episode.
So too are many of the major cable broadcasters. The Walt Disney Company, which was the first company to partner with Apple to sell TV shows on iTunes, not only offers content from ABC, but also The Disney Channel and ESPN. Youth-market heavyweight Viacom’s stable of channels, including MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, and VH1, sell shows on iTunes while simultaneously offering them on other online outlets.
Popular science and learning programming from Discovery, such as The Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet and The Travel Channel gives iTunes users their Shark Week fix all year long. Warner Brothers offers some of its classic programming, such as The Flintstones, Friends , and The Dukes of Hazzard .
Earlier this month, Apple inked a new deal to bring content from A&E Television Networks—The A&E Network, The Biography and History Channels—to iTunes. Even premium content from Showtime is available, including a live performance from Dave Chappelle, the terror thriller Sleeper Cell , and the edgy series Weeds .
However, don’t kill your TV just yet. There are still a few holes in what you can get from a cable or satellite provider and iTunes. Among the most conspicuous absences are HBO and FoxNews. While HBO’s series such as The Sopranos , Six Feet Under , and Deadwood have rabid followings and red-hot DVD sales, you won’t find them on iTunes.
Oddly enough, that popularity may be in part why the shows aren’t on iTunes. According to Josh Bernoff, vice president with Forrester Research, the more popular a show is, the less likely iTunes is to have an effect on its on-air ratings.
“It’s very challenging for new TV show to catch on with consumers, especially for shows that are serials like Lost or Desperate Housewives or 24 , where if you miss a few episodes you don’t know what’s going on,” said Bernoff. “Yes it does seem to make a difference, but the bigger the show is the less of a difference it makes. A lot of people feel The Office was sort of on the bubble, where it might have been picked up or it might have been cancelled, and they were able to get significant number of people interested. It’s an echo chamber effect, where it’s not just if you watch it, but if you watch it and tell your friends.”
Another area where the iTunes Music Store is lacking is in multicultural programming. The Spanish language networks Univision and Telemundo. The Latino and Hispanic population of the United States now accounts for roughly 14 percent of the country’s population, and it’s growing fast. Yet none of the programming from the two most popular Spanish language channels are available on iTunes.
“iTunes is pedaling as fast as they can, because there is really almost no content pipe that they couldn’t distribute really well, but there’s just so much time on the day, I’m sure [Spanish-language programming] is high on their agenda. It should be high on Telemundo’s agenda,” says Fleischer. “It should be high on every content owners agenda, working with as many outlets as possible.”
Apple declined to comment for this story, but perhaps only one thing is certain with the content on iTunes: it is much like the weather. If there’s nothing you want to watch today, try checking in again tomorrow.