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Steve Jobs asked CBS to join subscription video service

CBS chief Les Moonves confirms Apple was trying to sell Hollywood on the idea of a subscription video service. Don't expect it anytime soon.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs approached CBS a year ago about signing on to a subscription video service.
James Martin/CNET

About seven months before he died, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was pitching a plan for a subscription-video service to leaders in Hollywood.

Les Moonves, CEO of CBS, the entertainment conglomerate and parent company of CNET, said Jobs approached him with the idea about a year ago, according to story in The Hollywood Reporter. Moonves shared the revelation on Saturday while addressing attendees of the UCLA Entertainment Symposium in Los Angeles.

Jobs died in October following a long fight with pancreatic cancer.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Moonves also said that Jobs failed to persuade him to support the subscription service. "You know more than me about 99 percent of things," Moonves said he told Jobs. "I know more about the television business."

Moonves said his reluctance to sign on was due to his concern that such a service would disrupt existing revenue streams, according to the report.

That's consistent with what I've heard from studio execs for over a year. They told me this when I called to check out the accuracy of reports from analysts and bloggers about how Apple was supposedly poised to launch a subscription-video service. It wasn't true then and it still holds. Last week's upgrade of the Apple TV would have been the perfect time to launch such a service, but it didn't happen. It's very unlikely we're going to see more Netflix-like competitors anytime soon.

Netflix, the Web's top video-rental service, is the flag bearer for subscription video. Next in line would be Hulu Plus (it's difficult, with all the ads Hulu Plus serves up, to think of them as a pure-play subscription service).

Netflix has indeed proven that consumers will embrace a video-on-demand service delivered over the Net for the bargain price of $8 a month. But that's part of the problem. Many in film and television fear Netflix is teaching consumers to expect unlimited amounts of popular content for the price of a single movie ticket--without the popcorn.

Certainly the cable companies, which pay Hollywood big money, don't want more competitors offering movies and TV shows for Netflix-like prices. In addition, Apple is a leader in selling downloads. The film studios and TV sectors have plans to entice consumers to start buying and collecting movies again.

They need Apple to be part of that effort.