I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the best ways to buy TV shows. And I say ‘best’ (rather than cheapest) deliberately. There a lots of TV series that I really want to watch. Mad Men, The West Wing and Dexter are just three examples. But what is the best way for me to buy and watch these shows?
Before that, let me explain my context. I have an Apple TV device and also have been going through the pain-staking process of digitising all of my film and TV content. Yes, I’ve been copying every DVD I own and creating a digital file to go into my iTunes library. The end result of this is that I can now stream every film and TV show I own directly to my television. I love this. It’s so convenient.
Not only that, I can pick up my laptop, go anywhere in the world, and I have all the films and TV shows I own right there with me. (I have a big harddrive.) I’m genuinely happy that I took the time to get setup like this. But, I’ll be honest, it’s taken close to six months. And I’m still not completely finished.
Which brings me to purchasing future films and TV shows. Thanks to iTunes, I can buy a lot of films and TV series directly and simply download the files to my hard drive. There’s no need to spend hours copying physical DVD’s. So, no brainer right? Buy all my films and TV content from iTunes and save myself the hassle. In theory, yes. But there’s a caveat. More often than not, it is possible to buy the physical DVD for less (sometimes significantly less) then it costs to download from iTunes.
So, up until now, unless the download cost has been only marginally more than buying a physical DVD, I’ve tended to stick with physical DVD’s. I can’t justify the extra expense.
But then, just last week, Apple added a new feature: the ability to download previously purchased TV shows to any of my Apple devices. Before this, you downloaded the programs onto your harddrive and they would then solely be stored on your harddrive. This addition means that, effectively, iTunes now serves as a digital locker for all my TV content (not films currently). So, theoretically, I could delete all the TV shows I’ve bought from iTunes from my harddrive and save myself LOTS of harddrive storage. And then, when I want to watch something I’ve bought, I can simply (re)download it - whether that be to my computer, Apple TV, iPhone or iPad.
This is making me reassess purchasing TV content from iTunes. I still don’t like the thought of paying more for something than I can get it elsewhere. But when you factor in that part of that extra cost now means I don’t have to copy the DVD myself AND Apple will store the shows for me in the cloud and enable me to watch them on any of my iDevices, it makes me think that I’d be prepared to pay something extra for this convenience.
How about a quick comparison though? Let’s take those three shows I mentioned. How much would they cost on DVD compared to purchasing them from iTunes?
The West Wing
Amazon: Seasons 1 - 7 boxset - £48.99
iTunes: Seasons 1-7 £99.93
Amazon: Seasons 1 - 4 boxset - £44.99
iTunes: Seasons 1 - 4 - £60.96
Amazon: Seasons 1-5 boxset - £52.97
iTunes: Not available
Of those three options, only one is close to viable. I really couldn’t justify paying double for The West Wing. That’s crazy pricing. With Mad Men, I think that I probably would look to buy that via iTunes, though even that is at the very upper limits of how much more I’d be prepared to pay. And, thanks to the stupidity of TV executives, Dexter isn’t even available.
So even with the addition of a digitial locker, pricing and availability of content is still holding me back from doing what I really want to do. It’s a shame. I do tend to keep my eyes open for when there are iTunes offers around and grab them but, other than that, I’m going to be left hoping that Apple hurries up and sorts out its pricing for film and TV content. It’s just not viable in most instances.
When you do manage to catch a good deal, iTunes can actually be the cheaper option. Right now for example, the first eight series of Spooks are available to download for £4.99 each. The physical DVD on Amazon costs just under a tenner each. Also, take Downton Abbey, the pricing for series one and two is completely comparable with the physical DVD costs. So, if you see something on iTunes at the right moment, you can get yourself a good deal. But the pricing seems to change a lot. Prices will drop for a short while before returning to higher prices pretty quickly.
My problem with the Amazon Kindle device to-date as been simple: it’s hideously ugly. Beauty isn’t everything, but - to me - it does matter. I’m not an Apple fan simply because they make beautiful products of course; it’s because they combine beauty and function so seamlessly. The Amazon Kindle has until now only done a great job on function.
The keyboard in particular is quite frankly horrible. It takes up loads of space, is hardly ever used, and feels horribly cheap.
Which brings me to the updated Kindle device Amazon announced last week.
In short, I like it.
It’s a much cheaper device and will still not come close to the build quality of an iPad, but it looks so much better sans keyboard.
Finally Amazon, you have me interested.
Amazon have just announced their new (though long-time expected) tablet device. It is the latest in a long line of products that have tried to jump on board the tablet market that Apple’s iPad has opened up. No other product has managed to capture the public’s imagination though. Will the Kindle Fire succeed where others have fallen so far short?
Before answering that question, it is worth clarifying the strengths and weaknesses of the Kindle Fire when compared to the iPad. It seems to me that the Fire has two clear strengths: price and content. The launch price is $199 - a full $300 less than the iPad. And, unlike Samsung, Blackberry, and Motorola, Amazon actually has great content (movies, books, magazines, etc) that will be available on the Fire devices. This puts Amazon on a level basis as Apple who also offer great access to media on the iPad.
So, on content (excluding apps) I’d call it even, but on price clearly Amazon is the winner. (It’s worth noting though that Amazon will almost certainly be taking a loss on each Kindle Fire sold and will need to sell lots of them - and have people buy lots of content - for it to be a viable venture.)
It would be easy to jump straight in and reach a conclusion at this point (as some articles seem to already be doing) and assume that lower price and content mean the iPad is now doomed and the Kindle Fire will soon take the world by storm. But it is worth comparing the devices themselves too.
And this is where Apple is still leagues ahead. If you want to make a video call on your Kindle Fire, you can’t - there’s no camera. If you want to look at the photos you have on your Fire on your television, you can’t. If you want to start watching a film or a YouTube clip on your tablet and then transfer it to your TV, you can’t. If you want a decent sized screen, you’ll find the Kindle Fire is 3” smaller than the iPad. If you want a full library of optimised apps, you won’t have that if you don’t have an iPad. I could go on.
There’s also no doubt in my mind that Amazon are choosing to focus more the consumption side of the tablet market. They want to you to read, watch, and surf. Everyone thought that was all the iPad would be for but time has proven that people are using iPads in all kinds of creative ways. And the iPad seems better equipped to handle that than the Kindle Fire.
To tie this all together, I do think the Kindle Fire will be a BIG hit. I think lots of people will love the price and be more than happy with what it does. But will that be at the expense of Apple? I think, for the most part, not. I think this will kill off all other Android based tablet contenders and the Fire will become the hit tablet alternative to the iPad. But I don’t think Apple are going to be quaking in their boots as one
idiot commentator suggested. It is great to see a genuine competitor emerge and you can be sure that this will help bring the iPad price down. But, ultimately, I think the world we live in today is a world in which both the Kindle Fire and the iPad will thrive.
Great job Amazon.