While we in tech and gadget land are trying to read the tea leaves of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s recent cryptic comments on the future of Apple TV, for the media world the uncertainty “is causing a boatload of angst and anticipation,” according to Variety. And after the latest rumor — that Apple is working on a new operating system for its set-top box and plans to preview it at WWDC in two weeks — power players in the TV content delivery business are starting to speak out about it.
DirecTV Chairman Michael White, at an investor’s conference in New York on Friday, doubted that a new Apple TV OS would be so good that current cable or satellite subscribers would shell out for another set-top box, and he believes they’d still keep whatever current box they already have, according to Variety.
He was also skeptical about content providers getting on board:
“They are going to launch something, maybe in the next two weeks…but I don’t see media companies saying ‘You can stream things in bundles over the Internet,'” White said at Sanford C. Bernstein’s Strategic Decisions confab. “Typically with technology, it smashes the cost structure in some new way (but) with content costs, rights fees and the cost of spectrum it’s hard to see (it) obsoleting our technology.”
While skepticism is called for when it comes to whether content providers would get on board with an Apple television, White could probably afford to be a little less certain about the appeal of Apple TV in its current form. While it isn’t currently in danger of becoming a product as important as the iPad or iPhone, the company has sold 2.7 million Apple TVs in the first half of its fiscal year 2012, after selling 2.8 million all of last year, Cook said earlier this week. At least some of those customers bought one in addition to their cable or satellite box, or replaced their pay TV set top box entirely.
But at least White understands that Apple, with its technology, is clearly intending to disrupt his industry — Time Warner Cable CEO Glen Britt infamously didn’t even know what AirPlay is.
For his part, Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts was far less defensive in his remarks at the same conference. He practically welcomed Apple to the TV business, but he’s secure in knowing that to use Apple TV customers need Internet access, which he will happily keep selling them.