At Apple's first-ever QuickTime Live conference for content developers, the company demonstrated new technologies such as automated ad insertion that will boost the software's e-commerce capabilities. The emphasis reflects Apple's desire to promote QuickTime from its status as a marketing expense to a new revenue generator.
QuickTime is Apple software used to broadcast and play audio and video via the Internet. It competes against similar products from RealNetworks, Microsoft, and others.
"We're offering more tools for content providers to expand the business to go with QuickTime TV," said Phil Schiller, vice president of worldwide marketing for Apple.
Put together, the changes may help Apple regain some dwindling support. Today, CNN.com, one of the most popular news destinations on the Web, said it is partnering with Apple to use the latest version of QuickTime to stream multimedia news to users. CNN.com will also offer video from the network's TV and radio broadcast programs as part of Apple's "QuickTime TV network," as the service is being called.
Last year, Apple lost momentum in the market for multimedia software because QuickTime didn't offer the same "streaming" capabilities found in RealNetworks or Microsoft software. Streaming refers to the ability to play multimedia content virtually in real time, as opposed to content that has to be downloaded before it can be played back.
Back then, CNN.com was de-emphasizing its use of QuickTime because it took up more power from CNN's server computers than other streaming software.
However, since the release of QuickTime 4.0, which added live streaming features, Apple has been able to aggressively add content providers to its QuickTime TV showcase. In addition to CNN.com, the company today signed on five new content providers, including MTV and the Financial Times, to go with its current lineup of Fox News, Bloomberg, Disney, ESPN, and others.
Many of those companies are likely to be interested in new features demonstrated today. One such technology lets viewers click on an ad in a live broadcast; viewers are then whisked to a Web site where they can purchase merchandise. Another new feature lets a content provider create virtual pay-per-view channels so that only users who have paid to view an event, such as a live concert, can tune in.
In a way, Apple is attempting to achieve the long-held dream of interactive television, where viewers are encouraged to buy while watching.
Presumably, Apple could someday negotiate "referral fees" for such transactions in addition to revenue it could get by selling bandwidth and server space to businesses and consumers. No such plans have been formally announced, however.
Apple still faces an uphill battle in the war over streaming software.
RealNetworks claims that its software is used by more than 85 percent of streaming media Web sites. To boot, Real is making inroads in the emerging information appliance market--a market that analysts expect will surpass PCs in terms of volume by 2003.
Real's software is planned for use in upcoming "Internet radios," which don't require a PC to access live audio content, as well as the WebTV Internet TV set-top and cable set-top boxes that Liberate Technologies is developing.
Apple has not yet clearly stated a desire to address this market. Information appliances are "just not the main focus right now," said Schiller. "In the future there could be other ideas," he added.
Revised versions of the QuickTime player and associated server software are due early next year.
Stock soars, but few insiders selling
Apple's efforts to improve QuickTime come amid the company's stellar performance on Wall Street.
Even before the stock was reaching the $90 mark this month, a few company executives decided to sell some of their stock holdings. Fred Anderson, the company's CFO, sold 66,666 shares on November 2 and 100,000 shares on October 27, according to SEC filings. Jon Rubenstein, senior vice president of software engineering, sold 66,667 shares on October 19, according to SEC filings.
Of note, Edgar Woolard, who sits on Apple's board of directors, sold 10,000 shares on October 25, according to SEC filings. It was his first since joining Apple's board in 1996, according to Craig Columbus, vice president of research at Primark Corporation,. Prior to that, Woolard purchased 7,000 shares on four occasions from 1996 to 1997. Woolard also receives shares as a part of his compensation for sitting on Apple's board.