Why iPhone TV Apps Are Doomed to Mediocrity

Ok, I was impressed with CNN's new iPhone app. It's nice! But Dan Frommer over at Silicon Alley Insider thinks it could—and should—be much, much better, and he's right. CNN crippled their app to protect themselves.

What makes CNN Mobile interesting is its video content, which is split between on-demand clips from the network, and an intermittent live feed from CNN.com, which kicks on during major news events:

[CNN] has packed the app with recorded video "news" clips — for example, "Take a Look at This!" featuring a "crazy burger like no other!" — and will sometimes offer a live stream of its separate CNN.com news feed. (We're tuned in right now. The picture quality is fine; the programming isn't as sharp as the TV network.)

The complaint is that the occasional live news feed is from CNN the website, not CNN the network, meaning that you're getting second-tier content. I don't really take issue with this as much as Frommer does, since the live stream, as I understand it, is meant to air breaking new or scheduled event content that'll look the same no matter how it's packaged like speeches, disaster footage, anticipated milestones, etc. But the larger point? Why can't we use the app to tune in to CNN whenever we want?:

Cable giants like Comcast and Time Warner Cable pay big bucks to distribute channels like CNN in your area — perhaps $7 or $8 per subscriber, per year — and have no interest watching their monopoly evaporate thanks to the Web, the iPhone App Store, or any other distribution vehicle they don't control. And because CNN gets a huge portion of its revenue from these cable subscriber fees, it has an economic incentive to preserve the status quo, even if it means offering its iPhone app users an inferior product.

So, our TV apps will be crippled senseless until the cable industry, as we know it today, ceases to exist. Good evening! [Silicon Alley Insider]