Analyst talks three possible routes for future Apple TV


A dedicated Apple TV set was a hot topic at the end of 2011, spurred mainly by comments Steve Jobs made in his official biography by Walter Isaacson. So far in 2012, news on that front has been relatively quiet, but a new note by longtime Apple TV set booster and Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster (via Fortune) is reigniting discussion Wednesday morning.

Munster claims discussions with a “major TV component supplier” which had been contacted by Apple about its TV display parts lead him to believe Apple is still on track to introduce a dedicated television device in late 2012. However, there’s a caveat: Munster thinks if Apple can’t get a revolutionary new content model in place, then it won’t move on the market this year.

The analyst then goes on to suggest three possible scenarios that might constitute a unique Apple approach to the television market. Those potential solutions break down roughly as follows:

1. Changing the experience, not the service

In Munster’s first scenario, Apple would basically leave TV programming to existing operators and simply layer its own interface software on top, including menus, guides, DVRs and content discovery. Munster notes that Apple was expected by some to manage its own wireless network in the U.S. ahead of the iPhone launch, but instead partnered with AT&T and focused on UI and UX instead of content. Remember that apps came after the iPhone’s original introduction.

2. A hybrid content model

Apple could also partner with existing networks to offer live TV, and at the same time, deliver on-demand content from providers like Netflix, Hulu Plus or any other content partner willing to play via an App Store-style distribution channel, Munster suggests. It’s a “best of both worlds” type solution, and would probably still come complete with an overhauled UX, but might be trickier to negotiate than option number one, since it involves negotiating with two different types of content providers.

3. A la carte

Munster’s last option is a completely customizable, a la carte option that would see users subscribe to live TV packages from content providers. This would be the most revolutionary of the options in terms of the existing TV experience, but it would also involve a dazzling shift in the way providers make their content available, and the negotiations involved in doing so would be challenging, at best. In the end, there’s also no real guarantee that selective programming is what viewers are after, especially if existing, less flexible bundles from other sources cost less.

GigaOM’s Ryan Lawler wrote last year that Apple’s television effort was more about experience than about content, and described a likely outcome of Apple’s TV endeavors that pretty much mirrors Munster’s second scenario listed above.

Given the challenges involved in negotiating the third solution, I have to agree that a system that works with existing content sources, but also opens up the possibility of apps for different kinds of content makes the most sense as a solution that could still make big waves in the TV industry while also remaining realistically possible in the near-term. Which of Munster’s Apple TV predictions, if any, make the most sense to you?

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