Where’s the HD?

I live in hope.

Apple’s announcement yesterday was about music. I had hoped that it would fill in the picture for high-definition video delivery to the home. I still think the pre-holiday season is the ideal time to deliver this, for Apple.

So, because it’s my nature, I’m continuing to speculate on Apple’s hi-def delivery possibilities until it does happen. I think if it happens this year, it’ll have to happen soon, like, by 18 or 19 September by the latest. Why? The major US networks’ television season starts in earnest on Sunday 23 September, and that will be a well-established, rich stream for ready high-definition content. The movie releases will probably be a trickle, but seeing downloadable television in hi-def will get consumers used to seeing it on their big-screen, flat TVs, and demanding it in greater quantities.

Since I’m engaged in reckless speculation, I may as well add that I believe that that sort of deadline is what led to Apple’s particular urgency in the negotiations with NBC, and the public spat that followed. I think the $4.99 price point that has been the focus of the dispute, and has since baffled commentators, was the price that NBC was pulling for with HD downloads. Why, if NBC is doubling the wholesale price, would the end-consumer’s price go up by 150%? Only if Apple’s costs were increased. I’m guessing they would triple from where they are.

I imagine that Apple was pulling for a slight wholesale premium for high-definition television downloads. Maybe they were pulling for a $2.99 price, more likely they were willing to go up to $3.99. NBC may well have said, “If you’re charging double, we want to charge you twice the price.” The bandwidth costs, however, would eat into Apple’s margins, and they reached an impasse, made particularly painful because Heroes in hi-def would be the ideal flagship launch title. Apple’s response was to pull NBC’s new season launches, to eliminate confusion about standard-definition downloads, living in hope that the NBC-hi-def picture would resolve before year- (or season-) end. (If a program is upgraded to HD mid-season, what happens to the existing downloads? A solution is technically possible, but it will cost money, and create a logistical nightmare for billing of – and communications with – customers.)

I want to believe that Apple had planned HD for yesterday’s event (and had ABC, CBS, FOX, and the CW lined up), but pulled it in hopes that two weeks’ more negotiation would make the difference with NBC. For once, I think that Apple does not hold all the cards at the negotiating table. They scored an early win in public opinion, but NBC’s move to Amazon’s Unbox service was a clever counter, confusing people with regards to Apple’s stated prices. Ultimately, these public moves won’t count for much during negotiations.

Me, I really am hoping to see Heroes in hi-def, offered on the iTunes store. I would pay a reasonable price for the season. So long as Apple negotiates the right price for the bundled package, I don’t care so much what the individual episodes cost.