Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

The iPad Will Be Great for Free and Cheap TV Shows. But Not This Weekend.

So now we know what to expect when the iPad appears Saturday: A really cool device that will be great for watching TV shows. Here’s one thing you shouldn’t look for: Lots of cheap or free TV shows–at least not ones that aired recently.

Apple (AAPL) has been pushing the TV networks to get on board for the iPad launch, but the industry is in no rush. Like everyone else in media, TV execs are trying to figure out what the iPad means for their pricing power. Which means people who are used to watching lots of free top-tier TV on the Web won’t get the same experience on the iPad this weekend.

Meanwhile, the networks have resisted Apple’s lobbying to drop prices on the stuff they sell at the iTunes store. So if you want to watch the latest episode of “The Simpsons” on your iPad this weekend, it’s still going to cost you $1.99 (and $2.99 for high-def).

And while Hulu is building an app for the iPad, the plan, as I reported in February, is to make it part of a subscription offering. That’s scheduled to roll out sometime this year, but it won’t be ready in two days.

Where things stand now:

  • Hulu has the basics of a subscription plan, which includes access to an iPad app, worked out, sources tell me. But it will take a while for the company to negotiate rights clearances. A key part of the plan is to offer users the ability to watch Hulu on mobile devices, and the joint venture needs to wrangle permission from its programming partners to do that. So no Hulu app Saturday. When might we see one? Within “single digit months,” says an insider with a wry sense of humor.
  • Apple, which pushed a TV subscription service last fall, switched gears in recent months and tried persuading TV executives to cut their iTunes prices to 99 cents. But executives at two of the big four broadcast networks–CBS and Fox–have told me they’re not dropping prices on their big shows right now. No word from Disney’s (DIS) ABC or GE’s (GE) NBC yet. It’s possible that ABC, which has tight ties to Apple CEO Steve Jobs and is already promoting the iPad on its shows, may drop prices unilaterally. But my understanding is that Apple was aiming for across-the-board cuts.
  • As The Wall Street Journal notes, both CBS (CBS) and ABC are planning to deliver free TV to the iPad on Saturday. ABC will do so via an app, and the Journal says it could have a “a large number” of shows at launch. But CBS, which will use a Web site customized for the device, will have only one full-length program–“Survivor”–and some short clips. You can blame encoding issues for the limited offering, but if CBS really wanted to get a lot of stuff on the iPad at launch, it would.
  • One intriguing possibility for Saturday: There are reports of a Netflix (NFLX) app that would let subscribers to the company’s “Watch Instantly” service use it on the iPad. That’s not free. But it would be cool.

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