Mel's Diner: Dell wants to introduce an open-platform alternative to iTunes

Dell wants to introduce an open-platform alternative to iTunes
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Dell wants to introduce an open-platform alternative to iTunes, reports Business Week. Last year, Dell bought a company called Zing, which was founded by former Apple employee Tim Bucher. Zing created some innovative software that would allow people to Zing one piece of media to another’s gadget – from my Creative Zen to your XM Satellite radio receiver, let’s say.

In a world run by Apple and its content-provider cohorts, this sort of portability is unthinkable –digital rights management demanded by content providers and platform exclusivity demanded by Apple largely prevents this sort of (extremely helpful, IMHO) interoperability. But people are starting to sling their favorite TV shows from their Tivos to their Blackberries, so it makes sense that consumers don’t understand why they can’t listen to music they’ve purchased on any gadget they want

Still, taking on Apple is always a little bit like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. This one’s worth keeping an eye on.

Meanwhile, the Smithsonian Channel is playing a little catch up and finally making its programming available on iTunes, offering such shows as Stories from the Vaults, Remembering Vietnam: The Wall at 25, Day of the Kamikaze and Nature Tech available at the online store for the standard iTunes price of $1.99. I have to admit: I’m a little over iTunes – it’s such a controlling and bossy application. Long live Hulu!

Speaking of Hulu, among today’s most popular streams are The Simpsons, Family Guy, Psych, In Plain Sight, Burn Notice, The Daily Show, The Office and – still my favorite – Dr. Horrible. If you are done with the Olympics now that swimming and gymnastics are over, a Burn Notice marathon might be the perfect way to waste time in the dog days of summer. I’m a big fan of Michael Westen and his merry gang.

If Hulu, iTunes, Rhapsody, Amazon Unbox, and Netflix aren’t enough for you, TheWB.com goes live on Aug. 27, airing both original and library programming. Comcast also will offer some WB library programming on its VOD service. Just as a reminder, the new online network will offer classic WB series including Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, Smallville, Gilmore Girls, Everwood, Roswell, The Wayans Bros., Friends and The OC, and several new original shows.

It all sounds cool but a lot of admittedly cynical questions bounce around in my head when I think about this: who has time to go watch repeats of old shows online that they can now largely watch on cable? How will Warner Bros. promote this enough to bring audiences to the site? Why would top-name producers spend precious time producing shows for small online audiences when they could be developing for TV?

I thought Dr. Horrible represented perfect Web content – small, quick, easily accessible, vivacious and original. Will Ferrell’s The Landlord was like that, as have been SNL’s most popular digital shorts. I think it’s possible for TheWB.com to crack the Web’s secret code and become wildly popular, but I still wonder.

Finally, has anyone seen the promotion for the new season of Heroes during the Olympics? I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a network admit so openly – although ABC came pretty close regarding Lost, and they managed to turn that show around — that a show’s second season sucked and viewers left. Honesty: It’s a really new and interesting idea for a promo.

Two other shows that might consider trying this approach: Grey’s Anatomy and Army Wives, both of which really lost their edge after season one, in my opinion, and became unbearably soapy. Word to the wise: if a network has a hit, it should leave well enough alone.

On the flip side, shows that have managed to stay true to themselves in later seasons just keep growing their audience and their fan adoration. These include TNT’s The Closer, USA’s Burn Notice and AMC’s Mad Men. Mad Men is particularly interesting because I thought the premiere was far too slow, causing the show’s second episode to drop off by about 600,000 viewers, but as it moves along I see that the show has remained entirely true to itself so I forgive it for the boring premiere.  

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