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Apple's $30 a month TV subscription service? Not buying it.

Reports of Apple shopping the $30 a month subscription TV service to major networks raise questions – and open a world of possibility.

By Andrew Heining / November 2, 2009

An Apple TV subscription plan? The company's Apple TV has done poorly -- would a $30 a month TV subscription model work?

Jon Vidar/Sipa Press/Newscom

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OK, it's a rumor. And it's based on one report – from a major organization, but citing several anonymous sources.

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The prospect of a TV subscription model from Apple has many around the Web pondering what such a move would do to the media landscape.

First speculated on reported by The Wall Street Journal's Peter Kafka this morning, the service would bring a (presumably unlimited) roster of TV shows to subscribers for $30 a month. And instead of being tied to any current Apple product or an as-yet-unannounced tablet device, the service would run through the company's 65 million user-strong iTunes software.

Sound fishy? It is.

First of all, there's content. What's a content subscription service (cable TV, magazines, or Netflix) without the best content? To be a success, a TV subscription service needs to land the big fish of the industry – the big-three networks, HBO, and the like. No one's going to pony up for re-runs of Ice Road Truckers.

How, assuming they want to jump aboard, do you convince these industry heavy hitters to risk incurring the wrath of major cable providers by signing up for a service whose whole existence would threaten the stranglehold they have on distribution of said content? Disney's rumored to be the first to sign up, due to the special place it holds in Apple CEO Steve Jobs' heart (and pocketbook – he's the top individual shareholder, because of the sale of Pixar to Disney in 2006) but despite what screaming tweens and their ticket-hungry parents say, you can't launch a subscription model on Hannah Montana alone.

To be fair, the iTunes store does offer more than 50,000 TV episodes and 7,500 films, but a good number of those are from either backwater cable stations or networks that want you to watch episodes on normal TV – you know, the kind advertisers like and support.

Then there's the technical side. Most laptops' screens are 15 inches or smaller. And though Apple just rolled out an iMac desktop with a 27-inch LCD, most folks are still surfing the Web on their desks at something closer to 20 inches. Who wants to watch TV – let alone pay to watch TV – on a small computer screen? Americans like big. Cars, houses, waistlines, TVs.

Either Apple is banking on social change – hey, it worked with the iPod: Jobs at one point said people would never watch videos on such a small screen – or, it's hoping more people suddenly discover the VGA jack on the back of their new flatscreen (pshaw!). Or, more daringly, it's planning on giving away a variant of its as-yet woefully received Apple TV device.

Would that work? They could adopt the cell phone model (which is really just the razors and blades model). The pitch could be go something like: "Sign up for two years of on-demand shows from your favorite networks, and we'll give you this shiny Apple doodad that brings basic Web browsing, a few widgets, and all this great content right to your TV."  It's a stretch – the current Apple TV packs a pricey hard drive, but a scaled back version could do away with that to save costs – but it's just enough of a game-changer for Apple to try it.

What's your take? How will Apple proceed in with its rumored TV subscription service? What would work? Leave a comment or tell us on Twitter – we're @CSMHorizonsBlog.

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