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Summary:

Apple’s ‘hobby’ of improving the TV-viewing experience has graduated to ‘intense interest’. But what chance does Cupertino have of working with broadcasters? More in Europe than at home, analysts say.

Holding Apple TV
photo: Apple

While Apple TV already exists as a set-top box “hobby,” prospects for it turning into a TV set that might reinvent the broadcast business are lengthening to a November 2013 launch, according to one of the most-watched Apple watchers.

What are the chances for such a product, if it might arrive? Different, depending where you are in the world, perhaps. Sanford C. Bernstein senior U.S. media analyst Todd Juenger told an investor briefing (summary):

“I think Apple is largely stymied in the US to do anything truly disruptive in terms of the television ecosystem. All of the content that people care about most is in the hands of the US media companies … None of them has really any discernible upside to gain from entering into any agreement to make that content available to Apple … In fact, they have a lot to lose by doing that … Apple would need to do that to really disrupt things. What Apple has left to do is to build a device.”

Juenger says the absent middle ground in the U.S. TV ecosystem — between the expensive multi-channel pay TV most viewers buy and the five-network free TV a minority take — is not about to be occupied any time soon by a cheaper or alternative service offered by the likes of Apple.

However, in Europe, Bernstein says, the situation may be more promising for Apple. Senior European media analyst Claudio Aspesi told investors (summary):

“Several players (including new entrants and Telcos) are trying to potentially find a niche and a play; if this process were to lead to a sufficiently fragmented market, it would be easier (relative to the US) for technology companies to find a foothold in content. If the market fragments that much, then, it will be all that much easier for Apple (or Google or Amazon), at some point, to come in and consolidate this.”

I agree that each market is different but, in some ways, I have the opposite conclusion. Although Apple, under Steve Jobs, broke ground by licensing rights to sell and rent out movies and TV episodes in its native market, elsewhere around the world it has been relatively lackluster at acquiring content rights in the same way.

On that track record, I would not be confident that Apple can sign to acquire TV content in Europe with the same success rate it could at home, certainly not at the same time as U.S. TV content — not least because the pronounced differences in the two businesses would compel Apple to negotiate using different strategies at the same time.

Tim Cook and Steve JobsRegardless, whether Apple really wants to sign content in the way many describe it is far from certain. Most technology companies describe themselves as platforms, not content owners, and the thing they can best bring to bear on content industries is user interface accessibility improvements.

We have recently seen no outcome affirmative conclusion to the slightly far-fetched notion — mooted in some media quarters — that Apple or Google would bid for expensive European soccer rights. Indeed, whilst a growing number of YouTube channels is launching to host some highlights, YouTube is taking pains to distance itself from ownership of those videos.

Apple’s interest, however, remains clear, and may even have graduated beyond the “hobby” status that Jobs once gave the company’s TV interests, judging by CEO Tim Cook’s comments to NBC’s Brian Williams in an interview this weekend:

“When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years. It’s an area of intense interest. I can’t say more than that.”

Read our recent story on why digital media banker Terence Kawaja thinks tech firms hoping to disrupt the TV business “cabal” are going to be hard-pressed.

Apple has shown that it can disrupt and support one content industry in the past — music. iTunes Store popularized the track download format, restored legal consumption to a business diminishing in Napster’s heyday, and atomized the album.

Much of that was imagined by Jobs. What can Cook bring to TV execs’ tables?

  1. paul quickenden Monday, December 10, 2012

    you analysts really need to get out into the est of the world and look at what us second class content citizens are actually doing….

    Because of the archaic business models we are effectively geo fenced from the US content… Apple TV (and Xbox etc) are ways around it ,but with some tweaks….

    for instance, we can go thru all the hassel of getting a US based itunes account, buy gift vouchers and suddenly see a whole new world of content…
    Xbox, you use unblock dns – same experience…

    What is absolutely moronic, those of us who do all of this, are actually providing the media companies with more money… money they are doing their best not to take…

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  2. Cook can bring TV content producers a way to reach consumers directly, rather than through the arcane labyrinth better known as the modern cable telco.

    We still live with the assumption that a television show airs for the primary benefit of a real-time televised audience tuned in through a set-top box (or, as an edge case, through a DVR). What we don’t consider is that many of the same companies that produce content for a network or cable company could instead produce content directly to consumers and fans.

    With a fast-growing Apple TV userbase that’s already over 5 million people, how far fetched is it that Apple could do for independent TV what it’s already done for the independent musician?

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  3. You can’t sell 1k+ $ hardware with content deals, analysts need to wake up.
    The TV can change but this is not it (and voice control is not it either).

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  4. This vortex of Apple folklore has been twisting around since the Jobs bio touched on him “cracking TV’s interface”.

    It’s likely a myth and part of the reality distortion field. Certainly it’s kept people interested in Apple’s growth prospects.

    Unless you start producing some multi billion dollar content, you aren’t gonna be in the TV biz.

    Aggregators need not apply. The cable TV guys already are the interface. Like it or not.

    Lets get on to some real articles.

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  5. This idiot analyst either states the obvious or is hair brained off base. There’s no middle. In this case, he does both. Apple is stymied…wow,thanks Einstein. They’re late to the game, by a. Long shot. Absent middle ground? Gee, what revelation. There won’t be a new telco filling that niche…it’ll be filled in time by the current major players responding in their due time to the shifts in demanded access to content. Period! No need for idiotic analyst pay scale here. Just plain recognizing what’s right in front of us without meaningless babble.

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