Why Mountain Lion’s AirPlay Mirroring Is Hollywood’s Worst Nightmare

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One of the features that immediately caught my eye about Mountain Lion was AirPlay Mirroring. As I noted yesterday, this offers a powerful presentation tool for business users as well as a great classroom addition for teachers and trainers.

Of course, it’s also a great entertainment solution and one that has some dramatic advantages over AirPlay Mirroring on the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S. Those advantages are likely to set the stage for a showdown between Apple and the entertainment industry.

Let’s start with the basics – AirPlay mirroring lets you send video and audio from your Mac to your HDTV wirelessly. In effect, it works like having a second display attached to you Mac and choosing to mirror your internal display rather add a second desktop. Anything that happens on your Mac happens on your TV.

That includes games, Keynote and PowerPoint presentations, and web pages – including web pages that show videos, most notably videos from network programs. Miss last night’s episode of The Big Bang Theory? Want to watch on your TV but not feeling so invested that you want to shell out the handful of cash to buy it via iTunes? No problem, fire up CBS.com, turn on AirPlay mirroring and watch the episode on your TV for free. The same approach will work any broadcaster’s website as well as with Hulu.

Yes, you’ll still see a couple of short ads, but you’re still watching it on your schedule and on your TV at no cost. No iTunes purchase, no monthly cable/satellite company charge for your DVR – it’s a cord cutter’s dream. And a network or cable executive’s nightmare – and that doesn’t even take into account that this will work with all manner of pirated streams as well.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that a device has let you browse the web (complete with Flash, if you must) on your TV. That was one of the hallmarks of Google TV that the search giant hyped almost two years ago. It was also easy for the entertainment industry including the major networks and Hulu to work around, however. All they had to do was use modify their sites to serve different content when the Google TV’s browser was detected in http requests – problem solved.

That strategy won’t work with Mountain Lion and the Apple TV. A browser request from a Mountain Lion Mac using AirPlay Mirroring will look exactly the same as a request from a Mac that isn’t. And it won’t matter what browser is running either. AirPlay Mirroring will work just fine with any browser (and any application, for that matter).

It’s unclear what, if anything, the entertainment industry can do to prevent AirPlay Mirroring as an entertainment solution. Blocking all Mountain Lion Macs is technically possible but would be a PR catastrophe. One option might be offering up their content to iTunes for a subscription service – something that Apple’s reportedly been making efforts to create for years. In return, Apple could put a solution in place to notify broadcaster websites when AirPlay Mirroring is enabled. Given the strained relationship Apple has had with Hollywood, it’s hard to say if the company would be willing to even entertain that notion, particularly AirPlay Mirroring from Mountain Lion is a long awaited killer app for the Apple TV.