Time Warner on Apple TV: Bold disruption or hopeless compromise?

Yesterday Bloomberg put out a story discussing a likely deal between Apple and Time Warner. The idea, apparently, is to bring Time Warner cable subscribers the ability to watch content via the Apple TV box in addition to being able to use the traditional cable set top box or iPad and iPhone apps.

As much as I think this is interesting, it doesn’t seem to line up with many people’s expectations (including my own) for a disruption in the TV market. Yes, it would be good for Time Warner because it gives their customers another way to watch content without having to be involved in the set top box distribution or maintenance. Apple shoulders that problem. And it’s good for Apple because it gives people another reason to buy a $99 box from the Mac, iPad and iPhone maker, sucking more people into it’s mobile and media platform.

But it doesn’t seem to do anything to disrupt. Forget commercials and scheduled watching of TV - the real problem with television these days is the geographic walls put up around the content. So you want to watch Game of Thrones? Good luck unless you have a cable subscription, in a certain geography, and subscribe to HBO. Don’t want cable? I guess you have to go the illegal route. Here’s a hilarious comic from The Oatmeal everyone should look at.

It seems obvious to me that the future of video entertainment lies in content creators actually being able to sell their content anywhere in the world. I think HBO and other specialty content creators need to grow some balls and figure this out. Netflix already has. There are no restrictions on where you can watch House of Cards, provided you pay a measly $8 per month for your Netflix account.

Apple needs to convince the big content creators to ditch their exclusive distribution through cable. It seems like Apple should be in the best position to do this, since it’s very similar to the app distribution model. Apple can make content available to anyone with an iTunes account, take care of distribution, and take a cut of the revenue. How is this any different from the clever things Apple has already done with music? It’s not (and if you disagree, tell me why in the comments).

A deal with Time Warner may just be a strategic first move to getting more people comfortable with the idea of watching TV on their Apple TV. And I’m not saying this is a bad idea. I’m just saying it doesn’t seem like anything close to a destination, but rather a tiny step along the journey.

Chris Umiastowski

Former sell side analyst, out-of-box thinker, consultant, entrepreneur. Interests: Wife & kids, tech, NLP, fitness, travel, investing, 4HWW.