Commentary

Finally, Apple May Be Getting Serious About Television

Everybody in the streaming world seemed to be wondering when Apple would do something major, and as online content services proliferates, it seems that time is finally coming soon.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that by this fall, Apple expects to have its own TV service, working with all devices powered by its iOS operating system, which includes millions of iPhones, iPads and the lonely Apple TV set-top box that until recently has seemed like Apple’s black sheep.

That changed a little when HBO said its HBO Now would be exclusively offered via Apple for the first three months. At the same time, AppleTV also discounted its price, which, depending on your point of view, was a sign of trying to get back in the ball game or take over the league.

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This must be an increasingly confusing time for consumers hoping to dive deeply into online video and cut the cable cord. Roku, Amazon and Chromecast, Apple, Xbox and PlayStation offer ways in, but each has some barriers. Choosing one or the other still seems a little bit of a crap shoot. The way to resolve this situation is to resolve that...this is a little bit of a crap shoot.

Does the Smithsonian collect set top boxes, dongles, game players, Aereo antenna warehouses? What an exciting exhibit that would be.

The Wall Street Journal story says Apple is deep in conversations with all the usual network-type suspects to create a service of about 25 broadcast and cable networks, which of course, is another back to the future kind of development.

Not every crappy cable network will be there, which means, as CBS chief Leslie Moonves said recently: “The days of the 500 channel universe are over.” Nobody in the cable content-providing business should be that sorry to see it go. Those ridiculous splinter cable networks, mostly born in the '90s, hogged up a lot of cable slots, but created a glut of advertising inventory.

Eventually, they led to the creation of no-cost junk programming that places like A&E started streaming. If you were a National Geographic reader from way back, aren’t you sad to see that venerable nameplate fronting for “Alaska State Troopers”?

But of course, consumers were hell-bent to get all of those channels, once. Oddly, in a media universe that is now, practically speaking, infinite, the trend is really toward less-is-more. The trouble is, for now, figuring out which online TV service will offer the right combination of. . . less.

One notable absent party is Comcast. Apple and the cable giant are reportedly spatting because Apple has come to believe its earlier negotiations with Comcast on a big plan TV service were thwarted by Comcast’s decision to concentrate on its own X1 device. But it’s likely that if Apple is going to have a TV service, it would want NBC and its other networks -- and NBC wouldn’t want to risk alienating Apple.

It will all come clear, soon enough. But to some extent, how this will all play out depends on how many services consumers are willing to try in a quest to find some agreeable low number that will allow them to happily escape the cable prison of too much.


pj@mediapost.com
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