In some ways, Apple's blockbuster success in the early days of music is an aberration in the company's digital media history. A big part of that runaway win was that it also made the then best-in-class device for listening to audio on the go. The iTunes Store also hit the market at exactly the right time, when CD players were just beginning to get long in the tooth, and competitors like Sony's MiniDisc were struggling to take off.
Not to mention that its promise of owning music rather than subscribing resonated in an age where people were still purchasing music. Moreover, purchased music could go with you on your iPod, whereas doing the same with music from a subscription service was a cumbersome process.
But Apple's first shot at TV and movies was a decade ago, and in that time we've all become acclimated to not owning all our content, paying monthly fees, and having a portable computer with an almost-always-on Internet connection in our pockets. Streaming services allow for a large catalog, available on demand, without having to worry about syncing or storage space. It may not be the universally better solution, but more often than not it's the better experience.
It'd be overstating matters to say that the content providers are running scared, but the popularity and quantity of digital streaming services and the increase in cord-cutting points to an irrevocable upset in the way we consume our media.
The key to what Tim Cook said this week was in marrying HBO's content to Apple's expertise in user interface and experience. Both companies are upstarts in their own way, so it's little surprise that HBO Go debuted along with the Apple TV. Comcast recently backed off on its proposed merger with Time Warner, HBO's parent company. If the cable companies aren't shaking in their boots, they're at least taking a hard look at what's happening around them. And if there's one thing large companies are bad at, it's turning on a dime.
But this is exactly where Apple thrives, at the transition point. The company doesn't create markets, but it does have a knack for inserting itself into areas that aren't quite developed and producing the most elegant and desirable offerings. It did so with digital music, the smartphone, the tablet, and most recently the smartwatch.
While I'm not absolving Apple of its false start in TVs and movies to date, there has long been a feeling that perhaps the content producers simply weren't ready for the change. But ready or not, that change is now upon us.
Winter is coming.
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