Bellowing Ads Have No Place in iTunes
Apple users expect a premium experience when paying for and viewing iTunes video content. Usually Apple delivers. But there's one exception: When streaming episodes of certain TV shows, users sometimes see ads that iTunes has slapped onto the show's end credits. That wouldn't be a problem if the ads weren't so incredibly, absurdly loud. This is the kind of detail users expect Apple to pay attention to.
06/28/12 5:00 AM PT
As an Apple product-lovin' enthusiast, my default gut reaction is to defend Apple, just like my gut reaction to defend my family and friends. When Apple does something silly, or more likely doesn't do something it ought to do -- or consumers wish it would do -- I tend to think about it from the perspective of Apple's business interests. And I rationalize it. Often enough, it makes reasonable sense. After all, you don't get to be the most successful consumer tech company in the world for being dumb.
And yet, Apple has done something so inane, so painful to my loyalty, that I've found myself not only avoiding Apple's product, but also raging against it with very real anger. I'm seriously pissed, and many of you are going to laugh at the reason why: Apple is inserting iTunes commercials into the ends of "Dora the Explorer" cartoon television episodes that I bought.
Rage Against the Commercial
I hope you're cracking up right now. Me, a grown man, watching "Dora the Explorer." Sure, she's got a big weird head and sure, she has a talking backpack, but she's not all that bad. OK, she's tough to take. I am not a fan of Dora. But plenty of small children love her, and when small children need to get their Dora fix, I know how to deliver it. I cue up my Apple TV, select an episode, an boom, I can start streaming Dora from Apple's cloud servers in the sky. Or North Carolina. Wherever they are. Works pretty well, usually.
I used to always just stream them from my MacBook, but if it was asleep, I found it easier to not share the Mac and instead just stream from Apple. Seemed like a nice cloud-friendly feature, right? Until I noticed the commercials. Here's what happens:
If you watch a "Dora" episode on your Mac, directly from the file you purchased and downloaded, you get the episode. No commercials. Perfect. If you stream from your Mac, same deal. No commercial. If you move the episode to your iPad or iPod or iPhone ... same deal. No commercial. If you stream an episode via your Apple TV from Apple's servers in the sky, at the end of the credits, a very loud commercial will suddenly blast out of your TV speakers -- VERY loud -- shouting about how you can get more "Dora" adventures from iTunes. It's obviously a pitch to go buy more "Dora" episodes.
At least it's a commercial that is context-consistent -- Apple isn't trying to sell you or your kids on some other cartoon character you might not approve of. Like that Diego character. His rescue pack is so not real. So that's tolerable, at least. And the commercial comes at the end of the episode, interrupting the credits. No big deal.
So What Is the Big Deal?
It's the crass increase of volume when the commercial airs. I mean seriously, there I am minding my own business, when boom, some Apple narrator commercial voice is blasting through the household.
No one likes this.
I find it very disappointing.
I thought Apple was better than this. I thought Apple was smarter than this. I have a hard time imagining anyone sitting down deep inside of the secret bowels of Apple's headquarters in Cupertino and thinking, "You know what, let's self-promote more iTunes content by creating commercials to show at the end of TV episodes. And better yet, let's amp up the sound waves so that it blasts out extra-loud, maybe even loud enough to startle the neighbor's dog. Yeah. That's the project I want to work on."
And I have a harder time imagining that someone with a brain approved it.
Steve Jobs sure as heck would not have enjoyed an iTunes commercial blasting out at the end of one of his shows. It would have damaged his calm, I'm telling you. It damages mine, that's for sure.
Meanwhile, several weeks ago CEO Tim Cook mentioned something about watching Apple TV and Apple employees watching their own devices and liking that experience. I'm not sure which episodes Apple is attaching commercials to -- is it just "Dora?" -- but I'm hard-pressed to believe that Cook knows anything about the real American TV-watching experience based on what he gets out of Apple TV options. If he did, there's no way this crappy commercial system would have seen the light of day, even with "Dora the Explorer."
I actually buy TV episodes so I can have them and watch them whenever I want (I mean, so the kids can watch them) so they can be portable on road trips. I have the Apple TV because it's a great set-top box product. Hard to beat. I did not buy into any Apple ecosystem or Apple universe to listen to commercials, particularly loud and annoying commercials. Heck, this is exactly the reason I buy episodes of shows. If I miss an episode of "Castle," for example, because someone deleted the recording on my DVR, sometimes I'll buy the episode instead of watching it with commercials online, just to get the superior experience.
So Apple, I'm sure, has some terms-of-use line item that lets them insert commercials into so-called episodes that I bought and now have access to through their service. I'm sure they have every right to do this. I'm sure they want to be super-profitable with their service. What I'm saying, as a consumer, is that I do not like it at all, and moreover, I'm actively choosing alternatives because of it. This. Yes. I buy Apple and spend a lot of money doing it for a higher-quality experience. Not this experience.
What's even crazy is that in 2010, Congress passed the CALM Act (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation), and in late 2011 the FCC was supposedly starting to enforce it. Apparently no one at Apple has heard of this law. Or it doesn't apply to them. My point, though, is that nearly everybody hates loud commercials.
Enter the Xbox 360
And here's what's dangerous to Apple: The Microsoft Xbox 360. I've started reaching for the Xbox 360 controller first went I want to stream an episode of "Dora the Explorer" -- or watch Shark Week or whatever. Microsoft isn't inserting commercials into the programming I get via Xbox Live and my Amazon.com Prime Membership. I actually told a pre-schooler this weekend that the mermaid episode was not available ... simply because I have latent irritation issues with Apple and their "Dora" iTunes commercials.
What's worse: I'm inadvertently training small children to use the Xbox 360 for cartoon episodes instead of iTunes. Instead of Apple. And you know what? The experience is better.
I just expect higher quality out of Apple, and I'm still surprised at my level of irritation over it.