Cheap TV Shows Rumored For iTunes--Could Apple Do To Video What They Did For Audio?

Apple did it once. Can they do it again? Back in 2003, iTunes launched into the world in a big way, and what happened next would change the record industry and the music landscape forever. Before iTunes, people still flocked to stores to buy CDs, and any sort of online portal for accessing music was either illegal or hard to navigate. Steve Jobs somehow managed to convince the record labels to allow $0.99 downloads and cheaper album downloads through iTunes, and now it's the largest seller of music, online or offline, in the world. Talk about a sea change.

If you've been paying attention to the Internet video landscape, you'll see that same time of foreshadowing behavior. Currently, the industry is in somewhat of a pickle. Venues like Hulu are enabling consumers to view hit TV shows online, on their own time, for no charge other than sitting through select advertisements. Most of the major TV networks are now offering all of their hit shows for viewing online, and some are even letting them stream in HD. It's a great deal for the consumer who can't always make time on a given night for a given show, but now content owners are beginning to wonder if they aren't giving away too much for too little.

Things really started to get hairy last March, when NBC Universal executives reportedly told Hulu executives to block Boxee from accessing their content. Boxee is an up-and-coming software overlay that makes it easier to access web-based programming. Underneath, it works just like a browser, opening standard URL links to pull in video. It's just a really elegant way of doing it, but that excuse still wasn't enough for Hulu. Recently, at a hearing in the US Congress, the Hulu and Boxee situation was brought to light, and while nothing was hammered out in terms of a peace agreement, progress was made in the way of "restarting talks."

In reality, the online TV space is very unstable right now. A lot is going on in different ways, and no one really has any handle or control on things. It's sort of a free for all, and while that's sort of at the heart of the Internet revolution, you can't put it past Apple to really take charge and lead a new world of media consumption. According to a flurry of new reports, Apple is indeed "in discussions with television networks to lower the price of downloaded TV shows when the company begins selling its new iPad tablet computer."

If you'll recall, the company's Apple TV was called "a hobby" by Steve Jobs, meaning that it just wasn't as near and dear to his heart as something like the iPhone or iPad. But that doesn't mean that Apple wants the device to sit around with untapped potential. Years after the low-key Apple TV release, we may see its full potential unveiled, and we could see iTunes take it to the next level as the go-to media player for both Windows and Mac users. Reports say that Apple has already been "testing" a $0.99 price point for certain shows on iTunes, and it's hoping to nail down a final deal with content providers before the iPad goes on sale in March. And that makes perfect sense. The iPad is a multimedia lover's dream come true. It's the perfect size for watching shows on the go, and while many people were stumped that the company didn't announce a Hulu deal, you know that Steve Jobs would prefer you to get wrapped up further into the iTunes ecosystem than looking for content elsewhere. Maybe that lack of Flash is just some master plan to funnel users into using iTunes for all of their media desires.

Apple could also be looking to push down prices for popular TV shows and movies, and now that the iPad is nearing release, the company finally has real incentive to work hard to make it happen. The success of the iPad could depend largely on how robust Apple's iTunes store is, and Apple could really make the iPad much more attractive if it could do to video what it already did for music.