There's a new way to watch TV shows without cable: through Apple's new Apple TV. At $.99 per episode, Apple is claiming that it's the future of streaming. But it's not.
The most obvious comparison for Apple's rentals is Hulu Plus. Both offer a limited number of shows from specific networks, but Hulu is all-you-can-eat for a monthly fee. That means that if you want to watch 20 episodes of Glee, it'll set you back a flat rate of $10 through Hulu, and it'll cost you $20 through Apple. You also will be unable to rewatch any of those episodes through Apple, as you're just "renting" that stream.
Furthermore, Hulu Plus works on (or will work on) a number of devices that you may already have, including all three major game consoles, Blu-ray players and a number of HDTVs. You need to pay Apple $100 for an Apple TV to rent their shows.
The future of viewing video content such as TV shows and movies is clearly streaming. The popularity of Netflix's awesome Watch Instantly shows that, and just this morning news broke that Amazon was headed in the same direction. But when you're paying for merely pulling something from a server rather than something physical, like a DVD, it's tough to justify paying a la carte. And since the services actually making a splash, such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, are on a flat-rate basis, the idea of paying for each individual show is tough to stomach.
Not to mention the fact that what really matters when you're paying for these things, more than hardware or the interface, is the licensing. Hulu Plus feels incomplete by only offering shows from ABC, NBC and Fox. Why would you want to invest in an Apple TV when the only networks currently on board are Fox and ABC?
The future of streaming seems to be services that can offer up pretty much every TV show currently airing along with a sizable back catalog, all for a monthly fee. Toss in movies and short-form web content, and it's irresistible. And no matter what the service is, it would probably be available as an app in Apple's App Store for use on an iPhone or iPad. But it would also be available in Google's Android Marketplace for Android phones and, eventually, Google TV. Marrying such a service to a piece of hardware just doesn't make sense.
And while it might make Apple more money to sell shows piecemeal through a proprietary piece of hardware, it's a little late for consumers to think that's a sweet deal.