Apple TV Box Would Be Surprising

With just the scent of a new initiative, Apple can fascinate people throughout the entertainment business. It’s remarkable.

So, of course, a Wall Street Journal report that the company is talking with cable operators about a set-top-box yielded lots of industry buzz Thursday. With speculation Apple would launch a standalone TV set in 2013, it would be a surprise.

Apple has leading hardware in the mobile phone, personal computer and tablet arenas. Would it really abandon a quest to dominate in that fourth realm: the traditional TV?  

One analyst, Credit Suisse’s Stefan Anninger, suggests a set-top-box collaboration could be a plus for cable operators. Reasons are extensive:

Operators would welcome Apple abandoning any plans to launch a groundbreaking over-the-top service -- powered by a new TV set -- which might lure subscribers from them.

Operators could benefit from Apple’s genius in helping develop more consumer-friendly interfaces, helping people search for content and use DVRs.

Improved Apple-developed set-top boxes might allow operators to better collect viewership data. Selling that to Nielsen or another measurement company could bring big money.

Also, cutting-edge boxes might allow operators to accelerate their own ad sales businesses by offering lucrative addressable and interactive ad opportunities.

And, if Apple had designs on acquiring exclusive content, cable operators would appreciate not having to engage in bidding wars with its bottomless wallet.

There may be an element of surrender brewing here. Credit Suisse's Anninger wrote that a partnership with operators might suggest Apple is not on “the verge of launching a strategy or technology that is highly disruptive" what cable operators do.

Of course, that’s not to say the set-top-box business couldn’t be hugely enriching for Apple or it couldn't still launch its own TV set.

In fact, it come together through a collaboration where a cable operator offers a package of TV and Internet service, along with a spiffy Apple Internet-connected TV.     

Credit Suisse's Anninger writes that as with iTunes, Apple wouldn’t necessarily sell a set-top box to an operator and walk away, but look to “reap revenues” from the content distributed.

Anninger also suggested Apple may be offering an endorsement of the current cable video business. “The traditional pay-TV bundle may be more change-resistant than some of us, and Silicon Valley had expected,” he said.

A hint may come in how successful Google is in encroaching on that space with its Kansas City fiber project.

Anninger suggests over time, Apple could use a link with cable operators to burnish its brand in the TV arena and then move in more aggressively. An Apple-branded box on top of the TV set could be a marketing boon.

So, while it is a plus Apple may want to work with them, cable operators need to “judicious,” Anninger says.

Oh, they will be. It seems everyone feels about dealing with Apple. Except consumers.

(A TVBlog this week suggesting HuffPost Live needs a standalone TV app prompted Robert DelaCruz, general manager of AOL On, to note HuffPost Live has one on Samsung, Roku and Sony devices.

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