Apple reportedly in talks with cable companies regarding live TV for Apple set-top box

Apple reportedly in talks with cable companies regarding live TV for Apple set-top box

Aside from a full-on Apple television, one of the longest running rumors in Apple living-room land is a deal with cable companies and/or broadcast networks for the right to air traditional cable programming on an Apple TV or similar set-top box. However, television is notoriously myopic and future-averse, and Apple has previously sought to disrupt rather than engage their business. But that might be changing. Jessica E. Vascellaro And Shalini Ramachandran, writing for The Wall Street Journal, report that Apple might be trying a more pragmatic approach than before.

The talks illustrate that Apple is seeking a less radical path to expand in television than it has contemplated in the past, namely teaming up with existing service providers rather than licensing content to compete with them directly.

Steve Jobs once elaborated on the problems involved in going to market with a television or television box, namely the cable companies make even the cell phone companies look unified and sane by comparison. It's tough to see Apple compromising on either user experience or control to get a deal like that done either, but the Wall Street Journal has certainly proved credible in the past.

This could just be another in the long history of periodic feeling outs that Apple and Hollywood seem to feel compelled to engage in -- a tug at the thread Apple CEO Tim Cook still feels is there.

The WSJ also once again repeats the rumor that Apple has prototyped television sets, as mentioned above, and as iMore has also heard previously.

Where all of this is going, if any of it is going in the short term, is probably still too early to say, but for most consumers, including Apple consumers, it remains a problem that needs solving.

And the Apple TV remains a single-digit million-selling hobby, rather than the hundred million unit moving solution that typically attracts Apple this days.

The Wall Street Journal

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Apple reportedly in talks with cable companies regarding live TV for Apple set-top box

16 Comments

Course knowing the cable companies you'll have to pay for a regular subscription to access content AND you'll have to be at home to watch it....

I'm not seeing any compelling reason for an Apple set top box versus the existing cable set top box/digital recorder that already offers HD content, on demand movie content, and premium channels. What content could an Apple set top box provide to cable customers that they can't already get? Netflix? Hulu? You can get that right now on your tablet, smartphone, or computer, without an Apple set top box. Other than getting Apple onto cable networks with hardware and software, what would it do that's compelling for the average non-Apple fan boy/girl?

I recall people mentioning similar things when Apple decided to get into the mobile phone business. I think it'd be kinda cool if Apple turned "traditional" TV on its ear, like they did with the mobile phone industry.

This isn't the same. Smart phones at the time were only for the enterprise or hard core tech consumer. Apple simply made a smart phone for the masses. Everyone already has a TV and content to view on it. Just look at the current TV manufacturers. They got everyone to run out and buy flat screens and wonder why now their sales are flat. It's because once you run out and buy that $2000 TV you aren't likely to buy another for a long time; probably not until that one actually stops working in 5+ years. I know I am not going to be in the TV market for quite some time.

The "compelling reason" problem Apple faces here is not with users, but with providers. TiVO had the same problem a decade ago when they were trying to persuade cablecos to user their way-ahead-of-the-game software -- in most of the USA, cablecos are regional monopolies, and great software would net them zero new subscribers, so it made zero sense to pay extra for software.

With satellite, cord-cutters, and even the occasional area serviced by two cable companies, TV providers face more competition than they did 10 years ago, but even in those rare areas of overlap, it is unclear that STB software would be a differentiating factor for a significant number of customers. With Apple reportedly demanding a 30% cut on certain transactions, they would have to dangle some pretty significant carrots in front of a provider to get them to bite.

That's not to say Apple couldn't make something users would like -- just that selling the idea to a cableco is an entirely different story.

Sounds silly. But even if remotely true, it only means things aren't going well for Apple to be talking with cable companies.

How do you figure ?!
They want a piece of the action and they gotta start somewhere. Apple can afford to buy out any competition just to get what they want .

I doubt they "started somewhere" by talking to cable companies. This sounds more like last resort after being laughed at by content producers like CBS.

Apple's last resort is paying and buying up the competition, theyve got the power and theyve got the cash flow.
With internet streaming and more and more people leaning towards the next generation of watching movies and TV-series, the cable companies know that they need to do something drastic to keep the cash coming in. They also know that with Apple on their side they will get a boost to their sales. Just look at how happy Sprint is to be a part of iPhone family now ! ;)

Screw the cable companies! If they don't want to play then go the cable card route and bypass them completely! I can't stand Time Warner - their boxes suck (slow old) - their mobile app sucks (slow) and the lack of competition (at least in NYC) drives me nuts.

Cable companies only have so much power. Look how far Dish and DTV have come and surpassed the cable companies. Something we never thought we would see, but they came in from nowhere and took the basic cable and all that to the next level and much better !
Apple will change it , mark my words. Im not a fanboy, I love my dishnetwork and I love competition, I just think that Apple has something special up their sleeves and they will reveal it by June 2013 and it will change the TV industry the same way iTunes changed Music and iPhone changed cellphone industries :)

Right...but satellite did it *by creating their own infrastructure* and bypassing cable companies altogether. If this article is accurate, Apple is instead looking to partner with cable companies, with all of the pluses and minuses that entails.

I'm not sure you're getting the picture here. Bypass them and get to what? What competition is Apple going to buy out here? The content producers have told Apple no. They like the cable revenue too much. The only way Apple will be able to offer content on an apple box or tv is through the cable providers. This is disrupting nothing.

The goal is still to sell hardware for apple at a decent margin. But partnering with cable isn't worthwhile. People hate cable companies. That hate could transfer to apple. Cable companies are slow to work with. Cable companies want to squeeze customers but so does Apple. There's not room for two.