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Apple TV: wait and sue

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The day the bundled cable died

We'll all look back on this deal as the day that TV delivery changed in earnest.

Apple has managed to repeat its tradition not of discovering something new but of doing something obvious first.

Plenty of MP3s players existed before the iPod. Apple just made the obvious better design and the obvious better store and backed it up with the obvious better marketing. That's not to say this is easy. It's just obvious.

Similarly, pushing TV via the internet isn't a new idea. Doing it well is an obvious path to a promising business.

Apple receives great praise for moving at a turtle's pace when the rest of the industry moves at a crippled turtle's pace.

Beyond adding some real glamour to the downloadable TV show market, the Daily Show show deal spells the beginning of the end of bundled cable. We're not going to go BusinessWeek on you and suggest that Apple will somehow undermine decades of TV development overnight. Not at all.

Consumers, however, will grow more and more loathe of the idea behind bundled cable as a result of Apple's work. The subscription price for The Daily Show - $9.99 for 16 episodes - still seems high. But you can imagine a day when you pick, say, 10 TV shows for that price. Apple downloads them for you, burns them to a DVD and off you go.

TV networks could make these packages more attractive by selling longer, commercial-free versions of the shows.

To compete well in the next five or so years, on-demand cable must go a similar route and free up its programming.

If not, it seems Apple will saunter into the TV market and become a major, major player. For unexplained reasons, no one seems to want to do this kind of work themselves. They'd rather let Jobs own them and then bitch about it.

Flounder first, sue later. That, after all, is the Hollywood way.

We imagine that a couple of up-starts will rise and give Apple a real challenge at their own game. That tends to be the way technology-heavy markets operate. Such variety should be welcomed.

If this doesn't happen, the media companies will only have themselves to blame for allowing Apple to control their TV shows as well as their music. Don't depend on a company as woefully inept as Google. Create a joint venture capital arm to develop independent media warehouses. Invent something great and give it away via open source. Do something. Do anything. Just don't whine about your own ineptitude. We've grown so very tired of that.®

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