Meh, maybe. This story is far from over, but I liked the Motley Fool's writeup by Rick Aristotle Munarriz.
Let's step back a moment for context. As usual, there's a good coverage piece on ars technica, this time by Jacqui Cheng. Anyone who has followed iTunes for a while knows that they've been pretty firm in sticking to a uniform, fixed, and relatively low price-point for downloaded material. This has irked various parts of the Cartel, which would like to get more money for popular content. Considering the prices people pay for ringtones and pay-per-view movies it probably seems pretty logical to them that people would pay more for iTunes-sold content.
For much of last month, NBC and Apple bickered semi-publicly over issues of pricing and incidentally whether Apple would be willing to deploy more DRM. NBC threatened to take its marbles and go home when its contract expired in December. Then Apple decided to call NBC's bluff and said "take a hike, now." No NBC shows on iTunes for the fall line-up.
Oops. Probably what was supposed to happen was that NBC would continue to get revenue and connect with show fans through iTunes until its own ad-supported digital download service (currently called Hulu) launched next year. Not wanting to be stranded, NBC struck a quick deal with Amazon, which is currently offering individual shows at $1.99 and "bundles" at $34.99.
So did Amazon win by scooping up iTunes' cast-offs? Probably not. For one thing, Amazon is now competing against itself again because these downloads and bundles cost more than the comparable DVDs Amazon sells. Sales of one are going to hurt the other. For another thing, Hulu is still coming, which means Amazon is either going to be stranded with orphan content or is going to have to compete with an apparently free service that has the marketing might of NBC behind it.
Munarriz also points out that one of the unsung big winners here could be TiVo, which has a deal with Amazon to download purchases and rentals directly. TiVo owners can now order NBC shows with their remote controls, without having to engage the PC. Is this enough of a benefit in user experience to make a difference? I doubt it, but it may serve as a model for future deals that will drive more content into this platform. It's all about marketing, right? And this is a good marketing point for TiVo in appealing to people (like me) who are still considering a DVR purchase.
As I said, the story is probably not over. Both NBC and Apple are going to lose money this way and neither is likely to sit still for that. If NBC stays off iTunes and makes its own service work then that could embolden other Cartel members who'd like to break free of the iTunes lockdown to try going out on their own. TiVo or another aggregator could also win big as there's virtually no downside to NBC or whoever doing deals that let people download to a DVR rather than a PC, so long as they get the pricing and DRM structures they want.