Crashing through the dripping foliage, the fierce T-Rex startles its prey with a mighty cry. Momentarily confused, the weaker animal freezes—long enough for the T-Rex to grab the smaller dinosaur by the neck and shake it violently. With the limp animal dangling from its bloody jaws, the T-Rex turns, noticing, for the first time, the sky filled with a massive fiery ball.
was its final thought.
The cast of characters in our little play include:
T-Rex………………………… Universal Music Group, Universal NBC
Prey…………………………… John Q. Public
Fiery Ball…………………… The 21st Century
In case I haven’t made the point clearly enough, it’s like this:
Universal Music/Universal NBC and Apple don’t see eye to eye on the Universal properties sold by the iTunes Store. In July,
Universal turned down an opportunity
to continue a long-term relationship with the iTunes Store. Earlier this month, Universal announced plans to
offer DRM-free music
than the iTunes Store. And today, Apple said it would
discontinue sales of NBC Universal TV shows
because Universal demanded Apple charge $4.99 per episode, something that goes against Apple’s $1.99-per-episode pricing structure.
If you’ve followed the actions and statements of Universal Music’s CEO, Doug Morris, none of this should come as a surprise. Morris famously
claimed this about iPod-like music players:
“These devices are just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it, so it’s time to get paid for it.”
went after MTV, demanding that the network pay for videos from Universal artists, despite the prevailing wisdom at the time that these videos were a promotional vehicle that benefited the record company just as much as networks like MTV.
While Universal Music and Universal NBC are different entities, this Universal unwillingness to recognize the reality of New Media seems to pervade each organization. Universal has every right—even an obligation—to get paid. However, unlike other media conglomerates, Universal continues to act like the biggest dinosaur in the jungle, ignoring the oncoming meteor that is digital media. Yes, it can demand more money and, yes, it can threaten to take his ball and go home. But it’s going to have to get used to the idea that those it attempts to dominate in the New Media world now have a fair bit of power of their own (and the future in their favor) and may roar right back, as Apple has done when it replies in this vein:
“We believe The Store works as well as it does because we don’t confuse customers with one price for this TV show and another price for a different show. And we charge what we believe is a reasonable fee, particularly given that our customers have other ways to obtain this material, including watching it live, recording it on a DVR, and downloading it for free via BitTorrent and peer-to-peer. If you think you can do better on your own, best of luck with that and we’ll manage to get along without you. Others have tried to establish online media emporiums and have failed miserably but maybe you’ve thought of something that others haven’t. If it doesn’t work out as you’d hoped, our door is always open.”
“Oh, and have you looked at NBC’s ratings lately? We’d think you’d want to make a buck where you could, but you know best. Gotta run. Bye!”
[Updated to share the blame.]