Earlier today, I was at the UK press launch of Disney’s High School Musical 2, which was great fun. A lot of the stuff that I got from there will form part of a double feature in next week’s print edition, but it was a conversation I had with two of the big suits, Rob Gilby (Disney Channel UK MD) and Gary Marsh (President, Entertainment, Disney Channel Worldwide), that turned out to be the most fortuitous.
As I’ve written in our exclusive news story, both men were adamantly in favour of selling their shows for download via Apple’s iTunes service. The ability to download shows via iTunes has been available in the US for some time now, but only came to the UK this week. Disney Channel, as well as the Disney-owned ABC network, are selling a number of series through the store. Unlike some of the VOD services through Channel 4, Sky and the BBC, which are rental services that only allow you to view your purchases for a short length of time, iTunes purchases are yours to keep. They’re still limited by DRM code that prevents you from sharing your purchases with others, but the service is one of the most reliable I’ve used. And it works on my Macs, too…
But I digress. The reason both Gilby and Marsh were so positive was that they see iTunes as fitting their viewers’ needs. Says Gilby:
I’ve had my video iPod for ages, and I haven’t been able to get my own Disney shows on there. Now I can get them all.
Giving people a choice of where and when and how they access our programming is important to us. If they want it on their iPod, we’re going to give it to them on their iPod.
Obviously with less than a week of data, Gilby didn’t want to commit to judging how sales were progressing so far, but Marsh was able to provide a US perspective, where sales have been running for much longer:
I can speak for the model from the US perspective, where our shows have been on [iTunes] for quite some time. Routinely, Hannah Montana and the Suite Life of Zach and Cody have been in the top fifteen shows that have been selling episodically. Concurrent with that, we’ve never had higher ratings. For the last five months, we’ve had our highest months ever. Clearly the availability of these programmes, if anything, is helping the linear channel.
Compare this approach with that of NBC Universal, which has announced that it will not be renewing its iTunes contract when it expires in December, ostensibly in a dispute over pricing policy. Apple wants a one-price-fits-all price scheme which makes it easy and understandable for users; NBCU wants to be able to charge different rates for different shows, possibly incorporating special deals such as bundling films with TV series that share the same star.
Currently, NBCU shows account for some 40% of US TV sales on iTunes, so its departure may hit the store’s appeal to its users. However, I do think that iTunes’ ease of use and lack of time limits on viewing will still remain a compelling reason to use it even if NBCU doesn’t change its mind.
Of course, you may wish to point out that Disney shares a board member with Apple in the form of Steve Jobs, so that they would be unlikely to rock the boat; you’d be right. And as Disney Channel is a subscription service that doesn’t take advertising, the availability of shows on iTunes is not such a concern to them as it to NBC, whose broadcast channel is advertiser-funded.
But ultimately what they say is true: they should be putting their programmes wherever the viewers want to see them. And when they do that, their broadcast ‘linear’ channel grows. Maybe NBC Universal should bear that in mind.
Now, the next thing is to get Apple to do something about UK pricing. At £1.89 versus America’s $1.99 (roughly a quid at current exchange rates) we can’t help but feel we’re not getting great value out of iTunes UK…