Where's Apple's Tivo Outrage?

In this case, the principle isn't the thing. The content is.
Peter Burrows

When Real Networks unveiled software to let its customers play songs purchased from Real on the iPod in mid-2004, Apple quickly protested. "We are stunned that RealNetworks has adopted the tactics and ethics of a hacker to break into the iPod, and we are investigating the implications of their actions under the DMCA and other laws," Apple said in a statement.

So where is Apple's response to a similar announcement from Tivo? On Monday, the PVR pioneer announced it planned to deploy technology to let its customers play their favorite TV shows on portable devices including the iPod. Clearly, when it came to Real, Apple wanted all songs purchased via a music service to be purchased via iTunes--and not through Real's Rhapsody service. So why would it be okay for iPod owners to view Tivoed video, when Apple is now selling TV shows via iTunes?

It could be that Apple will break its silence post-Thanksgiving (the company is pretty much closed down this week). But I doubt it.

UPDATE: For starters, I don't believe Tivo did any reverse engineering of Apple's Fairplay DRM to make this possible, as Real did with its Harmony technology. Tivo is using a format, MPEG-4, that is supported by Apple. Even with some additional digital watermarking by Tivo, this is the essentially the video equivalent of playing MP3s or your own CD tracks on your iPod.

But also, in this case, the principle isn't the thing. The content is. As of now, you can only buy a handful of TV shows via iTunes. As such, Tivo's move could bring vast amounts of shows to the iPod. And that gives shoppers one more reason to buy its new video-capable iPods.

The interesting thing will be to see how TV networks respond. On the one hand, Tivoed TV shows come with all the advertisements intact (unless I'm wrong, it probably won't be easy to skip them). In that sense, Tivo's move--which at first will only be available to subscribers to Tivo's TivoToGo service--might be an interesting experiment in a mobile ad-supported business model for the networks.

More likely, the networks won't like it. After all, they'd rather sell their shows to the mobile crowd, as ABC is doing with Apple, than let it be viewed for free. As such, remaining silent may be Apple's best play for now. Certainly, its the most pragmatic. Sanctioning Tivo's announced plans would antagonize the same networks Apple is trying to woo to sell via iTunes. Maybe the time will come when the networks force Apple to take a stand. Until then, Jobs & Co. might as well stay mum, and let Tivo do its part to prime the iPod sales pump even more.

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