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Apple May Channel Netflix; Amazon Explores Subscription Video

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The invite to Wednesday’s Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) event shows a guitar, which usually suggests music, but that hasn’t stopped the buzz about video. The current Apple TV is too expensive at $269 and too limited in the kinds of content it delivers. With that in mind, expectations include a cheaper, more competitive set-top with expanded content. At latest check, it’s most likely that ABC shows currently available on iTunes only as purchases are likely to show up as 99-cent rentals; Fox has been a strong possibility but doesn’t have quite the same track record with Apple as Disney (NYSE: DIS). Now it looks like Apple, which had problems pulling its own subscription service together, also has found a way to expand its movie library beyond rental and purchase by including Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) capability.

With Netflix already available for streaming on more than 100 devices, including the iPad and iPhone, it’s not hard to believe a Bloomberg report that the subscription service will show up as an option on a new Apple TV. “We’re not commenting specifically on Apple,” a Netflix spokesman told paidContent, adding, “We are pretty open and transparent that we want to be ubiquitous on devices.”

Fittingly, Apple is departing from its usual avoidance of live video and streaming the event at 1 p.m. eastern/10 a.m. Pacific. Equally fitting, it’s using a format — HTTP Live Streaming — that requires Mac OS X or iOS 3.0 and higher, meaning it might as well not be webcast if you don’t have certain Apple hardware,

Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) in the hunt?: Apple’s guitar also been an invitation for other video-related news and reports to surface as everyone scrambles to position against the unknown. Yesterday we reported about Roku cutting prices. Today WSJ reports that Amazon is trying to do what Apple couldn’t: create a subscription service of its own to compete with Netflix and Hulu Plus. An Amazon spokesman stuck with the company’s habit of declining to comment on possible services.

Amazon already has a presence on numerous devices, including Roku, Tivo and TV sets from several manufacturers. But it, too, has been limited to sales, with no way to match the all-in-one streaming from Netflix or the aggregation of free and premium content on Hulu and Hulu Plus. Does it have a better shot of cutting through the objections than Apple? Maybe. A web-based service with library content doesn’t sound as far reaching as current prime-time shows. A lot will depend on how easy it is to use, the price and the quality of the content it pulls together.