Apple Schooled Music Execs Then, Here Are The Lessons Online Video Should Learn Now

From Techcrunch:

Apple’s all-in-one physical flat-screen iTV is coming, make no mistake. And, when it does, it will represent Apple’s attempt to reinvent the television experience in much the same way it did for music. But, while media execs were hopelessly naive in Apple’s presence back then, they feel they are ready this time. They are determined not to let Apple rule the premium online video world like they did (and still do) for online music. The question is, do they have the will?

Apple will, of course, follow its established playbook, which most CE companies inexplicably still do not follow, and seamlessly marry its beautiful hardware (the iTV) with its underlying software and services (in this case, movies and television) in the same way it did with music via the iPod and iTunes. Apple’s goal is to be the center of the online movie and television universe for consumers (just like it is for music). Yes, content is king to Apple, but only because content serves as the Trojan Horse consumers ride into Apple’s kingdom of riches (initially Macs and iPods, and later iPhones, iPads and the inevitable iTV).

Ay, but there’s the rub. The content king-makers — motion picture and television studio execs — now know this. They have seen this movie before, and this time they are determined to monetize content more directly for content sake – for themselves. Apple transformed itself into the #1 most valuable global company and juggernaut that we see today precisely because those media execs handed Apple the keys to unlock music value in the online world.

Steve Jobs wooed them with his charms, pitched a great story, and established the rules of the online music licensing game. Apple’s massive growth in the past decade all started there with its iPod-iTunes 1-2 knockout punch. That, in turn, led to the resurgence of Macs, which led to the iPhone, then the iPad. Apple would be a very different company today if didn’t get the music it needed 10 years ago.

And, how did Jobs’ playbook work out for the labels and musicians? Not so well. Online music sales (and royalties) were an asterisk next to iPod sales. Don’t get me wrong. Rampant piracy — and the music industry’s misplaced attack strategy — destroyed significant content value. Nevertheless, the music industry’s negotiations with Jobs one decade ago resulted in a massive transfer of value and wealth to Apple.

So, what lessons have media executives learned from this past decade?

Music execs were on their heels reeling in fear when Jobs approached them a decade ago with the promise of iTunes. They had no real experience with the Internet. They certainly had no experience with technology (many still do not) – and how it could be used for both good and evil. Piracy was rampant. Napster ruled the day (the bad one, not the good one). Kazaa’s Niklas Zennstrom was public enemy #1 (now of course he is a media insider with Skype, Joost and others). The music industry was understandably panicked.

Jobs promised a way out – under three conditions. First, Apple must be able to sell individual tracks unbundled from albums. Second, its price for those unbundled tracks must be $.99 each. Third, Apple must define and control the entire online music experience. The music industry capitulated, and these 3 commandments are fundamental rules of the game that still largely rule the day.

Well, those rules haven’t worked out too well for music creators and owners. Lesson learned. So, one decade later, media execs are striving to proactively dictate the value of their content and support multiple online experiences and business models. But, even now, they frequently significantly under-value their content. More on that later.

Prior to iTunes, piracy was rampant, and only relatively small players (including my former company, Musicmatch) played legitimately in the online music world. Amid this backdrop, media execs empowered Apple to be the first and only established online music source and experience. As a result, iTunes incredibly still commands 60-70% of all online music sales. That represents incredible power in the hands of one. It represents a downright monopoly.

Media execs are determined not to allow that kind of power in the hands of any single player in the online video world. They instead are committed to fostering an eco-system of as many legitimate distributors as possible. They actively license their prized motion picture and television assets to all those willing to pay.

That’s why we already have myriad established behemoths in the premium online video game. We have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Google/YouTube, Comcast. The list goes on and on. Apple too is on that list, but it is behind the curve this time. Those same media execs who ceded control to Apple ten years ago have refused, thus far, to broadly license their crown jewels on Apple’s terms. But Apple — or more accurately, Apple’s massive hoards of cash – can be very persuasive. More on that later.

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