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Ten more years: What the future holds for iTunes Store

Christopher Breen | April 29, 2013
Over the course of its ten-year existence, the iTunes Store has evolved even as it has stood stock-still. Starting out as an online store that sold protected digital audio files, it expanded to include sales (and, in some cases, rentals) of movies, TV shows, apps, and books (both audio and electronic). Where it remains unbudged, though, is in its central mission: Sell, sell, and sell some more. Whether the purpose of its selling is to feed the hardware that Apple makes or to turn a profit on the media itself, the iTunes Store differs very little at its heart from the large "music, movies, books 'n' things" emporiums of old.

And once the Store starts streaming, Apple can implement a version of Ping that's worth a damn. Ping failed for a number of reasons, the foremost being that it was designed to sell music rather than share it. When you shared a song, album, or playlist on Ping, you knew that you were really sharing just a preview. As much fun as recommending music in this way might be, consuming recommendations was mostly an empty experience; and so, after an initial rush by users to try the feature, too little sharing went on.

But suppose instead that when you created your perfect Sunday Morning Mellow Out mix or a Mid-Week Carry On playlist, people you shared it with could drag it into iTunes' sidebar or fling it onto their iPod and play it from beginning to end. And edit it and fling it back at you. And play the thing from within Facebook or Twitter or whatever social media service comes along in the next ten years. Now that's social networking with a purpose.

Production issues: Video may remain a tougher sell, and not necessarily because of Apple's unwillingness to enter the video streaming business. After seeing how Apple dominated their cousins in the music business in the 2000s, the TV and movie studios have been reluctant iTunes partners. The studios and major TV networks will try to maintain as much control over their content as possible, and they may feel that their best streaming deals lie elsewhere. There's no reason to think, however, that they'll be shy about continuing to use the iTunes Store as a sales and rental outlet.

But video streaming, like music streaming, is key to media consumption, and some interesting things are going on in this business. Both Netflix and Amazon are producing original programs for their streaming services. (Netflix's recent profitable quarter is credited, in large part, to its House of Cards series.) There's money to be made here.

The iTunes Festival shows that Apple can help produce content as well as sell it.

Apple has the means to deliver this kind of media, as it has demonstrated with its iTunes Festival concert series. Whether it adds "media producer" to its résumé in coming years depends on Apple's ongoing view of what the Store is for. If Apple sees it as nothing more than a way to push hardware, the company can find easier ways to pursue that goal than by becoming the HBO of the streaming world--partnering with the real HBO, for example. On the other hand, if TV networks in particular continue to look to hobbled options like Hulu and site-based streaming, and offer Apple the sale-only leavings, you can't blame the company for investigating alternatives that make the iTunes Store a desirable destination for original, high-quality programming.

 

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