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Article: Wrapping Up the iTunes Festival

by on October 3, 2012

For the last couple of years, Apple has put together a collection of artists, got them to perform at the Roundhouse in London over the course of a month, and streamed it as the iTunes Festival. Originally, it was an iTunes application-only event, but slowly grew to both an iOS app and an Apple TV app. Although I always thought it was a rather interesting idea, I always was terrible about making a point to watch. Part of this is the large number of unknown artists, while the other part is the general busyness that is the new TV season.

This year I made the conscious effort to check out some performances—most were streamed on-demand after the fact, but I did get a chance to check out a few live, and I was rather pleased with the experience. The iTunes Festival is a great mix of showcasing technology, showcasing up-and-coming and established artists, and putting on a free and entertaining series of concerts. The first two fit very well with Apple’s core business—why not show how well streaming works on the numerous devices, and generate some buzz (especially with those who don’t have an Apple TV)? Apple’s first foray into digital media sales was the iTunes Music Store, and still is a fairly decent chunk of its business. The third doesn’t necessarily speak of Apple in the business sense, but if people enjoy the shows, it will undoubtedly help, too, as the iTunes name is part of the festival.

iTunes Festival on Apple TV

Apple TV

Of the numerous ways to enjoy the iTunes Festival, the Apple TV is the best. Not only does watching a concert on an HDTV with a good sound system make for an enjoyable time, but the icon appeared automatically with no extra work for the user. Someone simply needs to navigate to the iTunes Festival icon (maybe even out of curiosity) and select it to learn about the iTunes Festival and begin enjoying content.

iOS App

While the Apple TV is the best, the iOS app will probably be the most popular. There are just a lot more iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches out there than Apple TVs. Fortunately, Apple has made the application fairly easy to use and it did shoot up to the top of the free app charts rather early. Still, it’s nothing earth-shattering or special as far as providing content goes.


Although this was the original way to enjoy the iTunes Festival, navigating through the iTunes application on a computer, it just feels a bit clunky. I suspect Apple will only get a handful of viewers from this particular method.

Back to the Apple TV

I’m most excited about the Apple TV as a content delivery system. For the last two years, I’ve used mine for streaming Netflix and content over my home network, and later AirPlay (and AirPlay mirroring on my iPad), but over the last year, Apple has made an effort to really grow the Apple TV as a platform. It’s still a hobby, but there are more reasons to switch the input selector on your TV from your cable box, satellite receiver, or TiVo. If Apple were to offer more special one-time events, like the iTunes Festival, the Apple TV might become a source of unexpected entertainment.

Everyone seems to be looking for the Apple TV to replace a traditional cable/satellite subscription, but why not look at it (at least in the short-term) as a good way to supplement cable/satellite/broadcast television? Include some special content, maybe stream some live news events (I’m sure Apple could build some content partnerships in that area), and you immediately have a good mix of free and premium content that starts eating away at the time that users are watching cable/satellite/broadcast television.

Apple TV Software Updates

What could really add value to the Apple TV is improving podcasts (so that you can not only synchronize playback locations, but also played status and the playback speed), mostly to bring it in line with the iOS app. With the latest Apple TV software update, the podcast navigation has been improved, but not much else has changed. Just like the iTunes Festival’s passive inclusion, Podcasts is another function that is already included on the Apple TV, but a separate app download on iOS devices. Add iTunes U as a built-in feature, and you have all of Apple’s media efforts showcased on an inexpensive, tiny gadget.

I’m not sure what we’ll see in future versions of the Apple TV software (it still is running a point-release version 5 of its software). However, I suspect we see Apple working to add more unique kinds of content, as opposed to the cable and broadcast networks many eventually want. Until then, we’ll always have AirPlay.

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