Apple may finally be getting traction on a subscription iTunes TV service, with Disney and CBS reportedly showing interest. But don't start ringing the bells for the death of cable quite yet; there's little in the news to get excited about.
According to the Wall Street Journal (via AppleInsider), Disney and CBS are considering a deal, but haven't finalized anything. Disney would offer programming from ABC, the Disney Channel, and ABC Family, while CBS would include content from its parent network and from CW. Reportedly, Apple will pay between $2 and $4 per major network channel, and $1 to $2 for cable networks.
Let's stop right there for a second. These are channels whose content you can already get online for free, be it through Hulu or on the channel's Web sites, such as CWTV.com. It's not clear that the networks would provide substantially more than what you can already get for free over the Internet, nor is it spelled out that the content would be ad-free. Also, Disney's not including ESPN. Live sports continues to be the glaring omission of all Web TV services, and iTunes is no exception.
The economics are also troubling. Let's be generous and assume Apple will pay $2 for all four major broadcast networks, and $1 for a bunch of cable networks. Heck, let's be extra generous and assume Apple won't ask consumers for any money on top of that. The subscription cost that's been thrown around is $30 per month. For that money, you'd get the four major networks, and 22 cable channels. And that's being really, really generous. Assuming the high end of costs, you're looking at a dozen channels. Even if you could pick and choose which channels you wanted, would you pay $30 per month for a dozen channels?
Lots of other nagging questions abound: Would this service be straight-up a la carte, or bundled? When would TV shows be available in relation to their original air date? Will there be ads? Could two people in my house watch different shows on different devices at the same time, or does every iTunes user need a $30 subscription? Are premium channels such as HBO and Showtime even remotely interested, and if so, would they cost extra?
Earlier, I said that subscription iTunes TV will never happen. That was hyperbole and I'm sorry. But with the information we currently have, it's hard to see iTunes replacing cable any time soon.