Engineering the Life

Apple’s iCloud Is a Huge Win for Hollywood

Those skeptical of Apple’s new iCloud service will say it fails for not offering the iTunes equivalent of Netflix. There’s no all-you-can-stream subscription model in iCloud.
So what? Investors who think it’s only a matter of time before Apple apes Netflix are probably deluding themselves. They’re also missing the point; iCloud isn’t a short-term music play. What looks like a ploy to give labels a new way to sell tracks (i.e., via audio upgrades) could one day be transformed into a lucrative video streaming service.
Why iCloud makes sense for Hollywood
Up to now, ownership and streaming have been distinct ideas. No longer. The rise of digital lockers such as’s Cloud Player and Google Music mean you can “own” a series of tracks and stream said tracks anywhere. Labels get one sale; listeners get unlimited access. This, in a nutshell, is why Google and Amazon couldn’t come to terms with Warner Music and the rest of the industry’s big labels before launching their lockers.
Apple has changed the equation while preserving the same “purchase one, access anywhere” dynamic. How? Unlimited downloads. The process is pretty simple. In trying this yesterday I navigated to the icon for “purchased” items in the iTunes Store on my iPhone 3Gs. After settling on Steve Winwood’s “Back in the High Life” — a track not yet downloaded to my phone — I clicked the cloud icon and grabbed the song. Thirty seconds later it was playing; no USB cable required.
To be fair, Amazon and Google are proposing streaming to anyWeb-connected device. The OS never enters the equation. By contrast, Apple wants iTunes and the iTunes Store to be the gateway to iCloud in order to encourage (what else?) more device sales. More Macs, more iPhones, more iPads, and, I suspect, more Apple TV boxes.
CEO Steve Jobs is betting that, as consumers, we’ll continue purchasing content — even in the face of all-you-can-stream discovery services such as Pandora and Sirius XM in music and Netflix in video. I think he’s right, especially when it comes to TV and movies.
We interrupt this commentary for a word about TV streaming
Last night was the season premiere of White Collar, a crime drama broadcast by the USA Network that my wife and I have come to enjoy. About an hour before air time we clicked over to the interface for Apple TV and navigated to my Mac’s iTunes library, available to us because of a neat feature called “home sharing.” Three clicks later, we were watching the White Collar pilot in high definition.


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