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Posted by James McQuivey on April 30, 2010
The Apple-Adobe tussle is heating up to bizarre proportions, with Steve Jobs yesterday issuing a public defense for Apple's anti-Flash stance. Call it a blog-heard-round-the-world due to how quickly Jobs' comments spread, much appropriate focus has been placed on Jobs' technical arguments, including this write-up in The Wall Street Journal that quotes my colleague Jeffrey Hammond.
But there's another big story behind this Flash fiasco that has successfully remained off the radar of most. It's the answer to this question: How do the media companies -- you know, those people who use Flash to put their premium content online everywhere from Wired.com to hulu.com -- feel about having their primary delivery tool cut off at the knees?
Answer: Media companies hope to complain all the way to the bank.
First, a bit of disclosure. I'm the one who went on record explaining that the lack of Flash is one of the reasons I am not buying an iPad. So I'm clearly not a fan of the anti-Flash rhetoric for selfish reasons: I want my Flash content wherever I am. But I've spent the last few weeks discussing the Apple-Adobe problem with major magazine publishers, newspaper publishers, and TV networks. Their responses are at first obvious, and then surprisingly shrewd.
Ever since the Web -- now personified in the minds of media companies as Google -- reduced all content to a free search result, newspaper publishers, magazine publishers, and TV programmers have watched consumer willingness to pay shrink and have stood by as advertisers who used to pay top dollar for handsome placement shrink back from the gritty, isolated online context that Web properties provide. Even when the controlled environment of the Kindle debuted, its lack of color and interactivity meant that there was no hope of wooing many paid customers or interested advertisers. But the iPhone app environment -- and certainly its sexier younger sibling the iPad -- promises to give publishers and programmers a way to both charge for content and satisfy advertisers.
But not if consumers can get the same content for free on the same device. In other words, if we can all watch Hulu.com or read an exciting version of Wired.com on our iPad browser using Flash, then we won't buy the apps and advertisers won't fall in love with reaching us again.
So despite their grumbles and temporary hysteria, media companies are criticizing Jobs and Apple less and less these days, hoping that this will buy them time to woo customers with splashy paid experiences, which will then reset the expectation that good content is worth paying for. Even on an Android device.