When the stores open in the U.S. on Saturday, Apple devotees will flock like magpies to Steve Jobs' shiny new gadget. But tech-happy consumers aren't the only ones being whipped into a frenzy: media companies are also racing to get on board with the iPad.
U.S. networks CBS and ABC have worked out deals to make their shows available for free on the device, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The New York Times is among the first newspapers to have an iPad app that will publish daily, as well as a free website built around the device's coding. And five of the biggest magazine publishers in the States are collaborating on a project called Next Issue Media to create a "digital storefront" and develop technology to bring magazines onto e-readers such as the iPad.
"We are living in a blindingly fast and important revolutionary age for media … as important as the advent of the printing press 500 years ago," said Paul Levinson, professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University, and author of New New Media .
"Organizations that don't see this, they'll exist, but they'll become the way live theatre became after the advent of motion pictures."
With the iPad set to launch in Canada at the end of this month, many media companies here are rushing to strike deals to provide content on the new device.
"Smart companies see this, understand this, and are wise to jump on this as soon as possible … those media operations that are there first, people are going to be much more likely to look at them," Mr. Levinson said.
Corus Entertainment Inc. has a deal with Apple to make its kids' content from stations such as YTV and Treehouse available in the iTunes store. That content will launch in the next few weeks, timed to coincide with the iPad release.
"Apple has done a phenomenal job creating a business model for delivery of content to the consumer," said Doug Murphy, executive vice-president of Corus Kids and president of Nelvana Ltd.
"It's an area we want to be on the forefront in."
Of course, the iPad will also be able to surf the Web, and many media companies have also made TV content available online. The sticking point is that much of that content is provided through Adobe's Flash technology, which like many mobile devices, the iPad does not support. Content companies then have to examine converting their video into the compatible HTML5 format.
"We're going to have to retrofit our existing websites where, yes, the majority of the video delivered is in Flash," said Paul Burns, vice-president of digital for CanWest Broadcasting, which owns the Global television network as well as a number of specialty TV stations.
Among those channels, CanWest is making plans for the iPad, he said, but is not yet ready to disclose details.
CTV Inc. is working to make its shows available on many kinds of devices, said Stephan Argent, vice-president of digital media for the company. Currently, many CTV shows can be watched online using a Flash player. He did not say whether the company is working to adapt that Flash format for devices like the iPad.
Canada's largest-circulation daily newspaper, The Toronto Star, is beginning to develop a version of the paper for the iPad.
"We have a team of people in place who are responsible for that transition," publisher John Cruickshank said. "We're not nearly as far down the road as we'd like to be."
Newspapers are all looking seriously at how they will work with the technology, said Jonathan Harris, vice-president of digital media at The National Post.
"We see this as a wonderful tool," he said. The Post already has a website optimized for navigating on mobile devices, and will likely move into the iPad formatting as well. Mr. Harris would not say whether the Post will have a digital edition ready for the launch at the end of the month.
The Globe and Mail expects to have some kind of offering for the iPad when it launches, possibly through a third-party developer, said Angus Frame, vice-president of digital. A deal has not been confirmed yet.
The Globe's mobile traffic has increased more than 1,000 per cent since the launch of the iPhone, much of it driven by that device.
"This could be another platform of choice," said Phillip Crawley, The Globe's publisher. There are also roughly 1,500 paying customers reading the paper on the Amazon Kindle. A full-colour e-reader like the iPad is particularly promising, he said, because it allows for photographs, videos and advertising.
"We definitely want to be part of this," he said.
Despite the rush in the States to develop a digital magazines for a variety of devices - complete with a string of online videos showing impressive demos of the magazine of the future from Wired, Sports Illustrated and others - the consensus among Canadian publishers seems to be a wait-and-see approach.
"Canadian publishers are following up closely the conversations happening in the USA," said Dominique-Sébastien Forest, vice-president of digital solutions at Transcontinental Inc., Canada's leading consumer magazine publisher.
But so far, there is no co-operative effort among publishers in Canada the way there is in the U.S., said Brian Segal, the president of Rogers Publishing. The company is looking at its most popular news and women's titles, such as Maclean's, L'Actualité, and Chatelaine, for developing its first digital editions. They will most likely not be ready until the middle of next year, he said.
"These things have yet to hit the market, and when they do they will not necessarily become ubiquitous overnight. It's going to take some time."
At St. Joseph Media, they are looking at formatting titles such as Toronto Life for the iPad's coding. However, like the other publishers, the company is only focused on digital insofar as it can make money from it.
"What we're not doing is rushing to develop an app for the iPad that will be available on April 30," said Doug Knight, president of St. Joseph Media. "Whether there's going to be a subscription model, or a micro-payment model, or a pay-per-issue model, or an electronic newsstand model, that works at a material level as opposed to a small scale level, we have yet to see that … There's lots of ways to play."