Why Charlie Brown and the Weather are Important

I’m writing this about a week after Halloween. I’m going to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Halloween, but my kids are…because, you know, free candy…so we do at least a basic sort of celebration every year. A couple of years ago, we introduced them to “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” The Charlie Brown Christmas special had become an annual tradition some time ago in our household, so they already love the Peanuts gang. I didn’t anticipate this becoming an annual tradition also, but it appears to have become just that. I’m not complaining. One can do worse with their kiddos’ media choices than Charlie Brown.

We’re a family of Mac users. We use them personally as well as professionally. We purchased the Great Pumpkin special from the iTunes store, as we do with most of our programs, because it’s just easier to watch it everywhere, and because the terms of use have always been preferable to me when compared to other sources.

Having been in Apple’s ecosystem for so long, I’m sort of used to them doing crazy proprietary things. Usually they don’t frustrate me too much, but there are occasions in which I find them extremely disappointing, because I know that, while they don’t impact me in any noticeable way, they have a big impact on other people. One of those moments was when Apple managed to enter some sort of exclusive arrangement in which all of the Peanuts holiday specials would stream exclusively on Apple TV +, rather than on broadcast television. For the time since the 60’s, most of the population of the country won’t have easy access to animated programs that have become, for many, a holiday tradition.

I say “most of the population” not to exaggerate. Those of us who use Apple products aren’t in the majority. Macs are not the dominant desktop platform (and those of use who use them are happy with that). iOS is arguably the dominant mobile operating system, but anecdotally, I know more Android users. So, while Apple offers a year of their new streaming service for free with the purchase of most any device, the bottom line is that most households in the U.S. aren’t using those devices, and, in many cases, can’t afford them. What makes even less sense to me is that these programs aren’t even available for purchase on the iTunes store any longer. So Apple grabbed the rights, and stashed them behind a subscription wall.

I have a big problem with the fact that someone who can’t afford an Apple device would be cut off from Peanuts holiday specials.

Of course, they’re just cartoons, right? Life goes on.

And Then Dark Sky

Except this is the second time in recent memory I’ve seen a similar event happen. I’ve used Dark Sky for a couple of years as my weather app of choice. It was a paid app, but the entire premise of their business model was that they didn’t sell user data. I’m a privacy advocate, so this is important to me, important enough to pay for a weather app. Dark Sky was available cross-platform as well as in an open API, and it’s forecast data was, in my experience, extremely accurate. In March, Apple acquired Dark Sky. At first, this seemed sort of cool, because iOS users will tell you that the out-of-the-box weather app lacked accuracy. Of course, what happened in short order was the discontinuation of the Android app, as well as the public API. In short, this was a win for iOS users, and a loss for the open web.

The Encroachment of the Proprietary

These two events are examples of a wider trend that I see in which more content and information that should be available to the public at large is placed behind a subscription wall, or isolated to a particular ecosystem, with the goal of driving profit to a single entity. I find this to be troubling, because I believe that children everywhere deserve to have access to Charlie Brown, regardless of income level or their parents’ device choices, and I believe that everyone deserves to be able to access private and accurate weather forecasts. It’s less the acquisition of the rights to these sorts of data that bothers me, but rather the act of placing it into a silo. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have to pay for these things. I’m saying that we should be able to pay for them in more than one place. Apple isn’t alone in taking these actions. Finding examples of the same (and worse) behavior from Google and Amazon, for example, is easily done.

I want to see less exclusivity in programming and data, because this benefits corporate boardrooms, not end users. The web is best when it’s open, and users’ choices are preserved. Needing to subscribe to yet another streaming service so that you can enjoy a holiday classic, or having one’s weather forecast removed because you don’t like a certain operating system, is a loss for the users. And, lest we forget, our technology is here to serve us, not the other way around.

Image attribution: PumpkinWayne under Creative Commons.

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