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Apple’s iPad arrives, along with dreams of media profits

Apple’s iPad hit retail stores over the weekend, along with the dreams of a newfound source of profits by television networks, media publishers and application writers.

Among them is Hulu, the free online video hub, owned by NBC Universal, the News Corporation and the Walt Disney. Reports say Hulu is the target of Apple’s desire.

Jason Kilar, Hulu’s chief executive, told the “New York Times" that his Web service is open to a subscription model, though he would not discuss details. The newspaper reported that the iPad is likely to be the device on which a subscription will be tested. The date of such an application is not yet known.

However, Kilar was enthusiastic about the coming wave of ultra-portable tablet computers like the iPad. “Typically media consumption in the house was confined to the living room or home office,” he told the newspaper. Tablets, he added, “allow consumers to serendipitously discover and consume media in every room of the house.”

Hulu’s 200 content suppliers receive 50 to 70 percent of the advertising revenue the company generates from their online videos. Some of the content suppliers complain privately about the tiny checks they have received through these deals, even as use of the site has grown. Monthly video streams on Hulu from traditional computers have more than tripled in a year, to 903 million in January, according to ComScore.

Consumers also want an iPad application for Hulu. However, to get permission to move content onto alternative platforms “takes a lot of wrangling,” a Hulu employee told the “Times” off the record. The employee said it was “like trying to pass the health care bill.”

However, there’s been no hesitancy about the iPad’s potential from Major League Baseball (MLB). A pioneer with Apple’s iPhone, MLB has shown an iPad app, which overlays graphics, information feeds, video clips and live game programming in a way that is simultaneously immersive, interactive and entertaining.

Mark Sigal at O’Reilly Radar called MLB’s iPad app “both suggestive of a media-centric killer app for the iPad and a bellwether for the future of TV Anywhere, yet another reason that I believe Apple’s ambitions with respect to Apple TV remain very much alive.”

Apple itself has been actively pitching television networks about bringing more content to the iPad via iTunes, its company media store. iTunes already has a TV and movie catalog of over 50,000 TV episodes and 8000 films — 2000 of them in high-definition.

At this stage, most of the iPad’s potential is just that. However, many think the device is positioned as an ideal platform for the next generation of television viewing. Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research called the iPad “a portable set-top box, but with its own killer screen.

“When in the home, it would be docked in a cradle connected to iTunes via a wired broadband pipe,” Moffett wrote. “Navigation of programming guides and iTunes listings would occur on the iPad, using an intuitive touch interface. Output would go directly to the wide-screen TV on the wall … until you left the house.”

“Then, you’d simply pop the device out of its cradle and take it with you. And in the process, you’d be taking your TV with you as well. A 3G (and eventually 4G) wireless connection would allow you to keep watching live TV in the back of the car or cab. Once you got on the airplane you could choose from a library of your favorite shows saved on your DVR … which also happens to be a half-inch thick ergonomically gorgeous high definition tilt-sensitive screen that fits comfortably in your hands.”

Media producer Gary Hayes told the “Guardian,” “We are finally entering an era where the second and third screen — the PC and the mobile — are truly converging. The increasing links between social media and TV are now embodied in a single device.”