No More Heroes

by Mike Shea on 7 September 2007

Two weeks ago negotiations between Apple and NBC broke down. It looks like NBC shows, including two of my favorites; Heroes and Battlestar Galactica; will no longer be available through iTunes. For nearly a year iTunes and Apple TV has been the primary way I watch TV. Removing these shows from iTunes removes my ability to watch them at all, except for the DVDs about a year after release.

This sort of negotiation shows how far from customer satisfaction a company like NBC can go. Likely their choice to leave Apple came from Apple's requirements for a simple pricing model, Apple's public distain for digital rights management, and NBC's worry that Apple will hold a monopoly on digital broadcasting.

They're right to worry. Apple now holds a strong monopoly on digital music but only because three of the big four music companies refuse to face reality and remove the requirement for digital rights management on their music. Apple has stated that they would prefer eliminating DRM from the tracks they sell and followed through with the surprising statement by releasing independent and BMI music without DRM on iTunes.

Instead of breaking monopolies the right way, by selling cross-compatible DRM-less shows, NBC chose to strong arm Apple by removing some of the most popular shows on iTunes. Apple doesn't seem to care that much. They're out to sell hardware and with a brand new line of iPods, they look to sell well.

The only ones to suffer in this drama are customers like me who want to legitimately pay for good TV shows. Those that still want digital versions of these shows will get them from the only usable source available - bittorrent. NBC will use this fact to demand stronger DRM at a greater inconvenience to those who want to buy shows the right way. Meanwhile, most people will continue watching it over the air, over cable, or on DVD later in the year. NBC is fine with that. They don't want technology to move forward. They want to sell shows the same way they have for years.

That's one of the key strategies for the movie, music, and television industry that most people miss. These groups don't care if they break new technologies or new media distribution channels. If they break them with inconvenience and severe restrictions, people will simply go back to the methods of the older days. People still buy physical CDs even though they're 20 years old now. It's easy for just about anyone with a computer and the internet to download all the music they want but the music industry has made it so difficult, expensive, and scary that people go back where the industry wants them - to Walmart to buy physical CDs.

All of this makes me want to simply ignore them. Is Heroes really so good that I can't simply skip it? I've managed to completely eliminate broadcast radio from my life in favor of podcasts. Why can't I do the same with TV, movies, and music? Unfortunately we're not at the point yet where the quality is as good, but I think we can get there. As the tools get cheaper and more people try it out, we may soon get to the point where independent music, independent TV, and independent movies is as good as the crap the professionals put out.

The market is there. The more the big shots ignore the power of distribution over the net, the greater chance that something will fill that void. There's nothing stopping three guys with an iMac and an HD camera from making the next Clerks.