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Hot on the Web

Steve Jobs, online media savant

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on March 31, 2006
(Issue 2413, Internet Writing and Publishing)

For a guy whose company has been written nearly every year by the supposed experts writing for the various computer magazines, Steve Jobs has a funny way of landing on his feet.

Actually, "landing on his feet" is a rather weak way of describing the recent coup Jobs pulled off when he sold his Pixar Studios to Disney.

That move was one of pure genius, even if few writers at the national mags have picked up on its significance yet.

By leveraging Pixar's dominance of children's animated feature films (with mega-hits like "Toy Story," "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles") into a $7.4 billion chunk of Disney stock and a seat on the Disney board of directors, Jobs has assured that his "other" company – Apple – will have a steady stream of first-class video content for its explosively popular iTunes Store.

Suddenly, Steve Jobs is wildly more powerful and influential than Ted Turner ever was.

In fact, if anyone understands how significantly Jobs has suddenly re-shaped the entertainment landscape of this country, it would be Turner. You think it coincidence that Turner announced his retirement from the Time-Warner board shortly after Jobs' deal gets done? Turner is all about juice, access, power. Suddenly Time-Warner is decidedly less significant a player – why would someone of Turner's ego want to stick around to watch Jobs re-make the entire industry?

And that's exactly what Jobs is already doing.

A brave new world

Look, for old farts like Digital Dave and myself, all this might not matter so much. Me, I'm perfectly content restoring an old 1960s stereo console in the garage and copying my old R&B records to blank reel to reel tapes.

But my 13-year-old just used his savings to buy a new video iPod; when I pick him up the other day and take him to the doctor's office, I'm sitting in the waiting room reading a new book on the planets. The kid is watching a new episode of "Monk" he downloaded from the iTunes store.

Jobs inked the "Monk" deal with the USA cable network before he used Pixar to become a major stockholder in Disney. With Disney owning ABC and ESPN in addition to its own films and cable channel shows, suddenly Jobs is in the cat bird's seat for streaming video on demand over the Internet to portable devices. You think CBS and NBC are going to play hardball with Apple over getting their shows on iTunes now?

Bill Gates has to be sitting up in Redmond wondering what the heck just happened in the digital entertainment arena. Not more than a few weeks after the Disney-Pixar deal goes down, iTunes announces its one-billionth song sale. 1,000,000,000. That's four songs for every man, woman and child in the United States in just three years since iTunes was launched.

No other online digital music store has anywhere near the clout of iTunes; certainly not Gates' MSN. The iPod is the essential must-have personal digital music player – and with the latest iPods also storing not only photos but video as well, Apple's dominance in this field has never been stronger. The Windows-powered portable music devices are going nowhere, and have less market traction than ever. If you're Michael Dell, how happy are you with Microsoft right now?

Unassailable position

And the best thing is Jobs has little to fear from Microsoft-style antitrust complaints. After all, Apple isn't selling a product, but a service. The music labels and individual musicians who offer their music through iTunes are the ones selling a product; Apple is simply the merchant, no more than Wal-Mart, ableit with a much cooler cachet.

With Disney and Apple likely to get ever cozier what with Jobs a major stockholder and board member of both companies, iTunes is going to have all the latest hot Disney movies. Including those from Pixar.

Think about it: Jobs gets all the advantages of owning Pixar (which he picked up for a measly $10 million in 1986 from George Lucas before turning it into a powerhouse of digital animation) without having to bother running it himself.

One never knows what the next generation of iPods will feature, but with some cell phones now featuring iTunes compatibility, it doesn't take a genius to imagine a wireless-capable video iPod over which one can watch live ESPN coverage of one's favorite teams in the very near future. Or downloading the latest Pixar hit direct to your iPod, without having to download it to your iTunes first.

This brave new world is about to get a whole lot braver.