Dark Doctrine: “Heisenberg’s Last Victim”

Several weeks ago, a fan of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” filed a federal class action against Apple, alleging its iTunes service “deceived” him.

The Cleveland doctor had purchased a ‘Season Pass’ for the fifth season of “Breaking Bad” in September last year. He “relied upon Apple’s promise that the Season Pass would include all current and future episodes of season five.”

However, as AMC had split the season into two sets of eight episodes, Apple’s iTunes treated the second batch of episodes as a separate season (which they dubbed ‘The Final Season’) and demanded an additional $22.99 for the pass.

His class action claims he “was unfairly deceived, misled and taken advantage of by Apple’s promise to deliver something it never intended to provide… When a consumer buys a ‘Season Pass’ to a full season of a television show on iTunes, that consumer should get access to the whole season.”

The lawsuit has brought to light the issue of inconsistent labelling on VOD services. The splitting of seasons by network is just the tip of some problems. Random key episodes of some dramas strangely don’t appear on either iTunes or rival Amazon until more than a full day after they aired.

TV episode numbers within seasons are also something of a mess due to the frustrating need of the service to include weekly ‘Inside the Episode’ extras to justify the expense of some overpriced season passes. The result is episode number orders are often out of whack, especially on some commonly used media players like the Apple TV and the Roku.

Now, Apple has officially offered $22.99 in store credit to disgruntled customers – the price of the ‘final season’ pass. It’s a costly burden for Apple to shoulder. Though hard numbers with VOD services are very difficult to come by, the first half of the fifth season of “Breaking Bad” was the third most downloaded series on iTunes in 2012 (behind only “Downton Abbey” and “The Walking Dead”).

That’s potentially millions in revenue lost in an error that could’ve easily been avoided had ‘Season 5’ been listed as ‘Season 5, Part 1’ when it first came onto the system.

More importantly, what will this mean for iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and the like? Hopefully more consistency and punctuality in their services.

As more and more people cut the cord on their expensive cable subscriptions, watching shows a la carte through services like these is becoming increasingly common and desirable – especially for those interested in quality scripted programming. Here’s hoping these services rise to the challenge, or otherwise they may face further costly ‘labelling errors’ like this in the future.