Apple's Candyman

I'm an unabashed gadget slut, a hopeless mediaholic who considers Mike Teavee of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" less a cautionary figure than a personal hero. My $299 golden ticket to the future of TV is the brilliantly executed Apple iPod with video. While the detailed 2.5-inch display on this 4.8-ounce, half-inch-thick marvel makes remote video technically viable, it's the iTunes storefront and exploding "vodcast" collection that makes place- and time-shifted TV both practical and delicious.

Unlike earlier portable media players, the "viPod" is easy to load with content and already comes with branded media on tap. Apple's Steve Jobs made headlines by selling ABC/Disney's "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" for $1.99 an episode. (Other networks -- USA, and Sci-Fi among them -- jumped in recently, too.) The distribution model works exceptionally well: In iTunes you click to buy or subscribe to media that pours automatically into the device at the next synch-up. As easily as TiVo, iTunes video vaults over the distribution and micropayment hurdles that have made selling on-demand, portable content an elusive dream for media companies.

The real headline should be that the viPod represents an open TV platform that doesn't have to wait for an obvious revenue stream. Advertisers have already staked their claims. One of the most popular vodcasts is Adobe's PhotoShop TV, essentially an infomercial of tips for digital imaging. g4tv is distributing clips to iTunes, and one of the top vodcasts is Ziff Davis's twice-weekly "DigitalLife," which includes 15-second commercial breaks for CDW and Microsoft. "There is a strong amount of advertiser demand," says Jason Young, president, Ziff Davis Internet and Consumer Tech. g4tv has seen traffic surge 60 percent, and podcast viewing is nearly even with Webcasting. "The results have far exceeded expectations," Young says.

While vodcasting occurs more on the desktop than on the new iPods, the model is goosing the online video streaming market. Burger King-sponsored viPod shorts at clocked 2.5 million viewings in a week, though only 500 of those were vodcast downloads. "It's helping to fuel the fire of streaming overall," says Gillian Smith, senior director, media and interactive, Burger King, "and you'd laugh if you knew what it cost."

I'm laughing anyway, because the BK vodcasts deftly merge several bleeding-edge trends into entertainment that is at once on-demand, portable, user-generated, and branded. BK gave leftover King masks to Heavy's indie videographers, who returned with such guerrilla gems as the Burger King trying to order a Whopper at McDonalds. Call it integrated marketing with a kick.

Just as MP3 players and file-swapping broadened musical tastes, vodcasting brings the sport of media discovery to video. ITunes could be a great candy store for those broadband video shorts that have been entertaining niche audiences at iFilm and AtomFilms for years, perhaps with a shelf for neglected prime-time diamonds like Fox's "Arrested Development." Indeed, the viPod is the golden ticket that makes TV sampling as easy as popping Gobstoppers.

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