Apple, Amazon and Sony join race for VOD prize

Jim O'Neil

Repeat after me: Change is good, change is good... You might as well get comfortable with it, because after today there's very little about the over-the-top delivery space that isn't going to get some major tweaking.

Obviously, the news that's gotten the most play belongs to Apple. With rumors (at the time this column was written) of an expanded iTunes store that will include 99-cent streaming rental TV episodes from Fox and ABC, and a redesigned Apple TV that includes Netflix, it's apparent that Apple is looking at video and its role in the market as more than a hobby at last. Some reports say the new content--which will be available to Apple on a test basis--could be available for streaming as early as today.

But there's breaking news on other fronts as well.

Amazon is rumored to be in talks with Hollywood studios to acquire content for a subscription service that will feature TV episodes and movies. It's a twist on Apple's pitch last November for a $30-a-month subscription-based service that would have used iTunes to deliver TV content but failed to gain traction with studio execs.

The Amazon story, though, is a little different. The Web retailer, which currently sells TV episodes for $1.99 each and also rents and sells movies, is looking at older content, programming the studio execs are less-reluctant to give up. An interesting aside from reports is that the folks at Amazon suffered some sticker shock when they saw how much it cost Netflix to have licensing rights to some of the content. It takes money, as they say, to make money. The retailer could launch the service in time for the holiday season.

Finally, from the CE side of the equation, reports from the Financial Times say that Sony is ready to roll out a rival to iTunes that will include music and video downloads. It's expected that the first devices to have access to the content will be Sony's PS3 and PlayStation Portables, of which millions already have access to the Internet. The report said Sony, which has said it expects 90 percent of its devices to be able to communicate with each other and the Web by 2011, will add devices over time. In January, Sony showed off Qriosity, a planned video download service that has yet to make an appearance. The Financial Times said the new service is expected to take some time to launch as well, possibly bowing sometime next year after Sony negotiates for content rights.

Three big bits of news from the OTT space, three major players really sitting up and taking notice. (And, of course, that doesn't include recent news from Google, Netflix, Best Buy, Hulu and all the rest of the very real players in VOD.)

I wrote a column yesterday for FierceIPTV that talked about who I thought would be the eventual winner in the VOD sweepstakes... I called Apple by a nose over Google and Netflix, mostly because I think they understand the user interface better than anybody else in the market. I took a lot of flak--including being lambasted as an Apple Fanboi, sigh--and I don't think Amazon's or Sony's entrance into the space changes that at all, it just cuts the remaining pie into a few more pieces. What do you think? Take the poll and let us know... -Jim