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Beatles And Apple Inc "Come Together" Over iTunes?

CNBC.com

I'm skeptical. Let me just say that right out of the gate. I'm skeptical that Apple Inc. and Apple Corps have signed a deal to put the Beatles' 255 song catalogue on the iTunes web site. Don't get me wrong, I see the economies here and I know that everyone involved sees $$$ in their eyes. And believe me, every fan I've talked to, including Steve Jobs himself, wants to see a deal get done.

I'm just skeptical that one is imminent.

But that's not stopping the Daily Mail from breaking the "news" that contract has been signed; or stopping several British tabloids from reporting big money changing hands by Apple to Apple to get the catalogue posted. Could be $200 million. Or $300 million. Or even $400 million. The money would be split among Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and the heirs of John Lennon and George Harrison, along with EMI and even Michael Jackson. All sounds good. If it were true.

Trouble is, while the two Apples put aside their decades old trademark dispute last year, with Apple already shelling out a reported $100 million to do so, I just can't fathom Apple Inc. and its magical marketing machine, from squandering what could be the ultimate entertainment photo op: Steve Jobs on stage with McCartney, Starr, Yoko Ono and members of Harrison's family on stage, raising hands in victory that a deal was truly done. Think about it: this is not some nameless, faceless tech company, and some cool band; or even Apple and a super band, like U2. This is Apple, one of the world's top brands, and The Beatles, the ultimate entertainment brand.

Unless Apple is trying to build on the minimalist success of The Beatles White Album, I simply can't believe that Apple would let this news go with a simple press release. Or allow it to leak. Or let The Beatles completely control the message by sharing it quietly first with the British press. No way.

Not to mention that $400 million price tag. One analyst I talked to this morning called the figure "shocking," and would be extremely skeptical. I don't know: the revenue potential for the Beatles catalogue on iTunes could be significant. Some suggest a $100 million pop that first day, and that down that winding road, another $1 billion from the 255 songs in the Beatles library.

I'm not saying a deal isn't under discussion, or that negotiations have progressed nicely. There are indications that The Beatles are getting more hip when it comes to distribution. I direct you to the deal Apple Corps signed with Fox's "American Idol" this season, for the first time allowing Beatles songs sung on the show. At the same time, American Idol is putting contestant performances on iTunes, so technically, if a contestant sings a Beatles song, it could make its way on to the Apple Inc. revenue machine. So far, only one contestant has sung a John Lennon tune, "Imagine," so we're still waiting to see how a Beatles song would perform. Meantime, there are reports that Apple's relationship with American Idol has been booming, with fans downloading millions of contestant performances already.

There's also speculation, which I have written about before, that if a deal gets done with the Beatles, Apple might make it a software AND hardware deal, releasing a special, Beatles-branded iPod or iPhone, along the same lines as what the company has done with U2 and Madonna.

But this is The Beatles and Apple. The deal won't leak. Or trickle out. When/if a deal gets done, it'll be the shot heard 'round the world.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com