Apple Saves World, Again

The new video-enabled iPod is about to save the televised content industry. It just doesn't know it yet. Just as the music labels were at first upset at the digital prowess of Apple Computer (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , it soon realized that Apple's "Rip, Mix, Burn" marketing mantra was simply the fork in the road to an iTunes powered future that has enriched the four remaining songsmiths with 500 million digital downloads.

That's why what intrigued me more than Apple's content distribution deal with ABC last week was the initial industry backlash. ABC affiliates began to bemoan lower ratings if fans of shows like Lost and Desperate Housewives altered their viewing patterns to simply download commercial-free versions the following day. Sponsors no doubt started quibbling about losing their marketable reach. As those dominos would tumble, eventually show producers would complain about a lack of funds for new televised programming.

Let's try to bubble-wrap this in perspective. The viewer downloading a hit show is either so fanatical that he viewed it already or she just couldn't make it and would have wound up firing up the TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO  ) to swallow it whole and blaze through the ads anyway. Any loss is likely to be minimal.

Now let's move up the chain, where things really start to get good. Media stocks have been collecting flies in the dumpster for a while now. Viacom (NYSE: VIA  ) announces that it is splitting the company in two, presumably to unlock its value piecemeal, and the stock is trading much lower today than it was when the plans were first revealed. Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) shares also appear to be in a perpetual state of slumber despite the line of suitors waiting outside AOL's door. Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) was the one that brokered the content deal with Apple, and its Mickey Mouse shares remain moribund.

Man, if they knew Apple like the music industry now knows Apple, they would be whistling over their makeshift graves.

That's because the video-friendly iPod is going to create a ton of incremental revenue streams for the owners of televised content. Right now we're talking about a few hit shows from ABC and some computer-rendered shorts from Pixar (Nasdaq: PIXR  ) . Just wait. It will get better.

Apple certainly sells plenty of the pop flavors of the month, but the company's bragging rights include the availability of 2 million different songs. Sure, these catalog title sales pale in comparison to the hot and now, but it's definitely been an important part of the music industry model.

With television, the biggest shows eventually move on to syndication and DVD releases, but everything else is discarded. That sitcom or courtroom drama that you just loved, the one that lasted all of two seasons? It's been dead to you because as high as your digital cable box and satellite dish channel options go these days, it's still not at the point of critical mass that would make it worthwhile to broadcast the show to the mainstream audience.

Apple enters, stage right
It's not just about watching your old shows, of course. Just as Pixar is offering up three of its award-winning animated shorts, can you imagine what the rich cartoon content libraries of Time Warner, Disney, and Viacom have to offer?

Trust me, I've seen young'ns with iPods. Besides, if having the means to entertain the impatient kiddies on the next road trip involves buying an iPod and a few bucks at the iTunes video store, it's an expense that many parents will gladly make -- as opposed to toting around bulky portable DVD players and a collection of scratched discs.

What about independent films? What about independent short films? What about indie websites? Would folks pay up for video versions of the latest batch of hilarity from HomeStarRunner.com or the JibJab gang? I certainly think so.

It didn't take long for Apple to flesh out its digital music library. The television and film industries will soon rally around Apple to make sure that they, too, find a way to further monetize their intellectual capital.

You will see this grow. You will see some upstart production houses offer content exclusively through Apple. Virtual red carpets will roll for direct-to-iPod releases. Audio podcasting will rub elbows with video podcasting.

Sure, as far as investing themes go, Apple will only get bigger. The neglected media companies also stand to benefit from a market revival. Another sharp play here could be Apple bandwidth enabler Akamai (Nasdaq: AKAM  ) . The content delivery specialist has already aided Apple in speeding up its iTunes musical downloads and video should give Akamai an even healthier -- chunkier -- diet.

Akamai may have seen its shares soar by 33% since being singled out in the Rule Breakers ultimate growth investing newsletter six months ago, but the party may be just beginning if fatter video files continue to be shipped along the information superhighway.

In the end, Apple looks like it's going to save yet another ungrateful industry. One day, the filmed entertainment giants will come to see the light -- the way Gwyneth Paltrow and that cat from Coldplay did.

They, too, will name their first born Apple.

Akamai is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick.TiVo, Time Warner, and Pixar are recommendations of Motley Fool Stock Advisor. All of our newsletters are offering free trial subscriptions, so why not get in on the action today?

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz thinks that an Apple a day will help keep the short sellers away. He does own shares in Pixar, Akamai and Disney.The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.


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