Comcast’s Breakthrough iPad App

If you need evidence as to why Apple’s iPad is going to change the media world, look at what Comcast just announced.

An app.

A very special app that turns your iPad into more than just a television remote.

Take a moment to see Comcast CEO Brian Roberts explain why a TV/cable remote is a thing of the past. Watch here.

So there it is – pairing the iPad to the Comcast cable box. Easy for them to do and much less expensive than being in the hardware business.

The iPad keyboard is the killer app because Comcast customers will soon be able to search 70,000 on demand shows just by typing a few letters onto their iPads.

The iPad then controls the TV, changes channels, adjusts volume and has a social networking aspect – one user can invite another Comcast subscriber via iPad to watch the same TV show.

Roberts says the iPad “liberates us from the cable box and puts it in the power of the consumer”.

A long way from the days when Milton Shapp and his electronics company developed the Jerrold cable box – one of the first devices in the early days of cable (Jerrold was Shapp’s middle name and Shapp eventually became governor of Pennsylvania).

It doesn’t stop there.

Apple, as I have warned (and I am a shareholder) stands to become a dominant power not only in electronics, which it arguably is already, but in content which it is fast becoming. And unlike what we do, Apple doesn’t have to spend any money on content development.

They act as a gatekeeper to allow third party content providers access to their cool and intuitive devices.

They get to charge "tolls" to content providers for using their "turnpike".

And other companies are embracing the iPad.

Take Livio’s new iPhone/iPod Touch radio app made especially for listening in cars.

Large button pre-sets for ease of use while driving. The app suggests listening options (a modern day “scan”). It zeros in on similar stations, if that’s what the driver wants. GPS can be used to find links to local stations while driving.

In the early days of broadcasting, companies like RCA may have manufactured radios and televisions as well as owned interest in broadcast stations but it was nothing compared to what Apple is pulling off today.

Apple owns access.

RCA had to give access to competing stations for free.

Therefore, unless and until another electronics company can come up with a serious competitor for Apple apps and products, Apple becomes the de facto gatekeeper.

Book publishers and newspaper moguls are worried about all this power in the hands of Steve Jobs and the potential for eating into their profits. But they have no alternative currently.

Record labels continue to fall flat on their faces adapting to new Internet and mobile devices. They are now stonewalling Apple on using recorded music for Apple’s new cloud-based and Lala-inspired streaming service which is due soon.

It sticks in the labels’ craw that Jobs now runs their business and that they in fact gave him the keys to their companies when he played to their piracy fears when pitching iTunes/iPod as a Napster killer. Now the labels have no choice but to play nice and yet they continue to go off the planet.

RIAA has won the initial phase of its lawsuit against LimeWire and in the process is opening the door to hundreds of other alternative services that will fulfill the public obsession with sharing music files. This could be worse for the labels than dealing with one entity such as LimeWire. Details on the labels “victory” are here.

Look to radio.

The industry has not adapted to Apple apps other than to create players that will allow consumers to listen to terrestrial radio or get minor content from cash-pinched stations.

In other words, Comcast can use an iPad to replace the cable remote and call that a success, but radio stations that use apps to allow for radio listening on mobile/Internet devices are failures for doing the same thing.

Well, not quite.

Radio could be a potent force in content and could make iPhones, iPads and iPods natural delivery systems for new content not currently on their terrestrial signals.

But broadcasters continue to insist that radio be consumed the way they need it (or want it) to be used instead of the way that best cooperates with the inevitable.

And what is the inevitable?

Look around.

I was at Glee Live Saturday night when the TV-inspired production company came to Phoenix. From mid theater you see the consumer telling you (if not begging you) to make content for the way they live now.

Phones everywhere. Pictures at the concert taken and transmitted immediately to Facebook pages everywhere.

Apple has done more than any company to dictate the future of the entertainment business without providing one single bit of content that they have to pay to produce.

In fact, they use content from third party sources and profit from it.

Like it or not, you’ll be attending sporting events some day and participating in the play by voting on whether the umpire’s call at first base was right or wrong. See the replay and then decide. Of course, the fans don't get the final say, but talk about social networking!

Then they will meet other fans in the stadium. Stay connected after the game.

Attend shows that are built to have content you can have in your lap on an iPad that enhances the traditional stage only presentation. Of course, you’ll be prompted to buy things while enjoying the show.

And in radio, 100 podcasts per locality and music services that are narrated by experts – unique and compelling. News available by zip code with GPS news alerts that come to you while you walk through the streets.

If I’m a broadcast company, I’m calling a brainstorming session. Turning the best minds loose and having them develop content for the new gold standard in broadcasting.

The Apple iPad with all its apps replaces broadcast transmitters and towers.

We may not like it, but it is starting to happen now.

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