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Summary:

During today’s press event, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that the iTunes store has sold 450 million TV episodes. How will its newly announced 99 cent rental program change the marketplace, especially with Hulu Plus around? It depends what’s on offer.

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During today’s press event, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that 450 million TV episodes, along with 11.7 billion songs, 100 million movies and 35 million books, have been downloaded from the iTunes store, making it the number one digital media store in the world. How will its newly announced 99-cent rental program change the marketplace? It depends what’s on offer.

When we compared Hulu Plus to Netflix Instant during its launch, we found while the back catalog was comparable, Hulu Plus had Netflix easily beat when it came to new episodes of current shows. Apple’s rental program, though, draws from a larger pool of content, which could be a game changer.

Note the use of the word “could” here. Jobs announced that so far, only ABC and Fox have signed up for the 99-cent rental program. While we don’t yet know what specific shows will or won’t be available for 99 cents, based purely on studio, the below chart indicates that about a third of the content Hulu Plus is offering this fall won’t be available for rental on iTunes.

AVAILABLE ON HULU PLUS ITUNES RENTAL?
24 Yes
30 Rock No
American Dad! Yes
Bones Yes
Brothers & Sisters Yes
Castle Yes
Cougar Town Yes
Dancing With The Stars Yes
Desperate Housewives Yes
Family Guy Yes
Find My Family Yes
Friday Night Lights No
Glee Yes
Grey’s Anatomy Yes
House Yes
Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Yes
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon No
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit No
Lie To Me Yes
Minute to Win It No
Modern Family Yes
Parenthood No
Parks and Recreation No
Private Practice Yes
Saturday Night Live No
Shark Tank Yes
Supernanny Yes
The Biggest Loser No
The Cleveland Show Yes
The Good Guys Yes
The Office No
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno No

NBC is clearly the missing link here, and if it decides to participate in the future, that would put Hulu Plus and iTunes on par with each other. Of course, you can’t necessarily compare a subscription service to a per-item rental service; for the $10 a month I pay for Hulu Plus (which, without shelling out $99 for an Apple TV, I can watch on my television thanks to the PS3), I have unlimited access to the service’s catalog of content.

That definitely works in Hulu Plus’s favor. When the new fall season starts, for example, I’ll be watching the theoretically rentable Castle, Glee, House and Modern Family on a weekly basis. If I were renting them a la carte from iTunes, in a month when each show premiered three new episodes I’d spend $11.88 to keep caught up, and if I wanted to review them after 48 hours, I’d have to plop down another 99 cents each. Compared to Hulu Plus, that’s not a great way to spend my money (even with the commercial-free video Apple provides).

The deal breaker here is that the iTunes catalog extends well beyond ABC and Fox, thanks to its relationships with pretty much every major TV network and studio. If cable or premium channels like AMC, HBO or Showtime — which do currently sell episodes via iTunes — join the rental program, it could be a very different marketplace indeed.

Frankly, Mad Men is half the reason I still have a cable subscription, which currently costs me $100/month. If I could rent the weekly misadventures of Don Draper for 99 cents each, that’d leave me about $96 a month in savings, which I’d find much easier to use towards a la carte rentals and purchases for series and movies not available through subscription services like Netflix and Hulu Plus.

In short: The iTunes rental program might not make me rethink my Hulu Plus subscription, but if more content providers get on board, it could make me rethink cable.

Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required): Three Reasons Over-The-Top TV Apps Will Beat Big-Cable

  1. Yeah, but HULU will offer it’s app via ios platform that AppleTV will have access to. So AppleTV will have all of the content HULU has to offer once you buy and subscribe to it. AppleTV box becomes the defacto online bridge to entertainment content that Roku won’t be able to match. Boxee better figure out a unique strategy or it’s done.

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    1. Hi, Matt, what do you have to back up the idea that Hulu will be on Apple TV? You’re right about Hulu Plus being available on iOS, but Apple TV’s a different thing. You can go to Hulu’s site and see what devices are currently able to stream Hulu here: http://www.hulu.com/plus#devices

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  2. Couldn’t you use your iPad/iPhone to access Hulu and then stream to the Apple TV?

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    1. It will be interesting if Apple allows all videos to be streamed, not just videos in iPod app.

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    2. I doubt apple will allow you to do that. Sure would be nice though. However, if AirPlay is part of the OS and they provide an api for developers, that would be sweet.

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  3. [...] Apple announced on Wednesday a cornucopia of new hardware and software — sleek iPods, a brand new Internet-enabled video streaming device and new versions of its iOS software and iTunes 10. However the most impressive to me by far was [...]

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  4. Who is there right mind would pay $.99 to rent a single show? The idea is made even more absurd when you consider there are things like Hulu, Hulu Plus, Netflix and the World Wide Web out there, which range in price from nothing to almost nothing comparatively?

    The only purpose I can see for this silly service is to watch something you missed on TV, if you can not find it on Netflix or Hulu Plus.

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    1. I completely agree. 99 cents to rent an episode? This doesn’t make sense especially given that networks rebroadcast an episode 1 or 2 more times before the new one. This will probably fail and should be replaced with a subscription service such as to a network for an entire season (not just one series but all of them).

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  5. [...] Apple 99 cent rentals [...]

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  6. One of the key differences between the two services is availability. As far as I’m aware, Hulu is only available in the United States. There’s at least one or two people outside of the US who speak English and would like to watch US television.;) In a few weeks, count me in as one of them. Hulu is totally blocked in South Korea, which isn’t the case with the iTunes store.

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  7. [...] on Wednesday a cornucopia of new hardware and software: sleek iPods, a brand new Internet-enabled video streaming device and new versions of its iOS software and iTunes 10. However, the most impressive to me by far was [...]

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  8. [...] Could Cheap iTunes Rentals Change Television Online? [...]

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  9. [...] Could Cheap iTunes Rentals Change Television Online? [...]

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