Apple and the Future of Media – a first draft intro

Below are the first passages in the form of a primary draft, of the introdution to the fortcoming book, Moving Data, which will be published by Columbia University Press later during 2011.

Apparently, he did not wear a black mock turtleneck, nevertheless it was Steve Jobs walking the red carpet at the Oscars in 2010—handsomely dressed up in a tuxedo. Some bloggers spotted him, tweets were sent out and excitement echoed across Twitter. Eventually some pictures were taken, and even though Jobs might not (yet) be a celebrated actor, Apple’s CEO does definitively have star qualities. Together with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, he was all likely the richest person in the audience, and more importantly—at least for some—the most famous. Or as one blogger put it: “OMG it’s Steve Jobs! I’m the only one yelling at him.”

Jobs physical appearances in Hollywood may be rare, yet as the largest individual shareholder in Disney, his presence at the Oscars was fairly natural, not the least since the Pixar film Up was nominated for the Best Animated Feature and Best Picture category that very year (which it won). The link between computers and the film industry is perhaps still not that obvious. The blogosphere, however, vividly commented on the new iMogul. Finally, Hollywood had been taken over by the computer geeks. “His machines are everywhere,” as one commentator firmly stated; Jobs appearance at Hollywood’s “biggest party was his way of announcing that the nerds are driving the bus, and all you pretty people need to step to the rear”, as another one put it—fictiously quoting Jobs: “You make the content (or at least some of it), I’ll deliver it.”

At a first glance, Apple seems to be a company not bound to Hollywood’s (old) ways of doing business. Still, the similarities are striking. Even if Apple Inc. does not (yet) produce content, it has during the last couple of years developed into sort of an integrated media business, where the marketing of its desirable digital products resembles those of the film industry – not the least financially. During 2010 Apple’s advertisement costs rose to almost $700 million. Its products, in fact, appeared in ten of the 33 Hollywood films that were number one at the U.S. box office during the year, outstripping appearances by any other brand. Of course, product placements and TV-commercials are expensive, and Steve Jobs presence at the Academy Awards was no coincidence since the Oscar 2010 broadcast saw the debut of the first iPad commercials. Due to his increasing health problems Jobs did not appear at the 2011 Oscars, but perhaps he was watching anyway. Thanks to apps like the Oscar Backstage Pass this years ceremony was arguably the first where mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad truly changed the viewing experience.

During the last years there has been a number of negotiations—and some would indeed term them struggles (or even battles)—between Hollywood and Silicon Valley companies as Apple. By and large they have centered on various forms of digital distribution practices, with piracy and file sharing constantly looming over the shoulders of media executives. If Apple once managed to gain control over music distribution through its ingenious iTunes Music Store—which today has a market share of 70 percent of global online music sales, and already in 2008 became the largest music retailer in the U.S. surpassing Wal-Mart—Hollywood’s media conglomerates have naturally been quite hesitant in letting Apple assume a similar role regarding film and television.

Still, as technology has increasingly become an integral part of both creating and distributing content, deals and partnerships that get that very content onto different devices is today crusial for all media companies, as well as the device makers and the distribution companies that act as the go-betweens. Hence, the stakes in various negotians have been high, involving major issues pertaining to the future of media business in general. The ongoing debate between Apple in Hollywood, in particular, has revolved around everything from new business models to technical standards and changing online user patterns. Hollywood has, of course, reacted to ‘the digital’ in different ways. On the net film isn’t anymore automatically associated with Hollywood, rather YouTube has made online video into a completely different user experience. Some executives (as Disney CEO Robert Iger) have began to understand these changes, and been more progressive regarding a lesser control over ‘the windows’ through which consumers access moving image content. Others have fiercely tried to maintain traditional distribution models. In order to bring in revenue through online retail, as well as selling as many devices as possible, Apple, unsurprisingly, wants to provide the widest range of media possible. Apple has, for example, tried to promote cloud based media solutions, in analogy with the long-promised celestial jukebox, where users could store all their media content centrally and access it from pretty much any Internet-connected (Apple) device. But of course, as a laconic blogger stated: “neither Hollywood nor the music industry, wants a walled garden ecosystem that doesn’t play well (or at all) with non-Apple devices.”