Television networks think people should watch their content in one of three ways: either sitting in front of a television, sitting behind a computer or holding your mobile device in front of your face. The implementation varies, but you usually have to pay for web-only access (Hulu+), be a subscriber to a pay channel (HBO) or have to endure commercials (ABC, Comedy Center…and Hulu+) to get at the content. Networks have been loathe to allow access to the real media device that everyone owns: your television. It’s a somewhat arbitrary limitation (you could always go the Mac Mini media server route) that reflects only the generally bad decisions inspired by the legacy network-advertiser-cable/satellite provider business model.
Case in point: HBO. On my TV, I can use my DVR and my channel guide to record any of the same six movies they run in a 2 week span across their dozen or so stations, or I can browse through their excellent HBO Go app on my iPad and watch any movie they currently offer and every series episode when I want on demand. I can’t have the HBO Go experience on my TV, however, because that would cut into the HBO On Demand service’s revenue. These alligator arms aren’t limited to pay cable stations: Google got to experience first-hand what happens when you try to move networks’ web-based content to the big screen – about a millisecond after introducing the GoogleTV, the networks blocked the device from accessing it.
Enter Apple’s latest iOS, which has the ability to mirror anything you’re doing on your iPad. Unlike the current incarnation of AirPlay, which is an in-app function (which seldom works outside of Apple’s apps), mirroring is turned on system-wide. So whether you’re doing an iOS demo, watching episodes of Deadwood on HBO Go or enjoying that .avi movie
you torrented and were too lazy to re-rip of your daughter’s 3rd birthday in VLC, what you see on the iPad is what you see on your plasma. Tasty. For now.
Rest assured the networks, who still haven’t gotten their heads fully around an Internet business model, have assembled a room full of people trying to figure out a way to block AirPlay Mirroring as you read this. The potential of 200 million iOS devices streaming the ABC Player app to their televisions – while their cable boxes gather dust – is enough to keep network executives awake at night. They haven’t had their “music label moment” yet, but as companies like Apple continue to offer awesome features like mirroring, only to have the asinine networks neuter them, you can bet that moment’s approaching even faster than it was before the introduction of iOS 5.