Apple’s future as a TV juggernaut takes shape

2 Mar 2012

As the world waits on tenterhooks for the shape of the next iPad and whether or not Apple will enter the TV business with an actual TV, it is clear that frenzied negotiations are happening. The days of linear TV are over and streaming content to a multitude of devices is the sweet spot Apple wants to capture.

Apple already owns most of the modes for the consumption of streaming TV – everything, except that good old display on the wall in your living room, barroom, bedroom, etc. Apple doesn’t own that, but the consensus is it will take its knowledge of software, display technology and content delivery and disrupt the over-commoditised TV display industry.

Think about it. If you enjoy Netflix or catch-up services like BBC Player or RTÉ Player, then you are mostly enjoying them on an iPad, a notebook computer, an iPhone or any number of other smart devices.

Increasing numbers of people are enjoying programming content outside of the traditional TV schedule. Thanks to the existing Apple TV service and services like Hulu and Netflix, people are getting their content on demand.

When Netflix came to Ireland and the UK earlier this year, it was clear it was focused on eating BSkyB’s lunch. All it needs is a vaster library of content and Sky would have something to worry about.

When rumours emerged late last year that Apple may have been intent on getting the rights for the Premiership in the UK, I was fascinated. I thought the rumours were premature for sure, but this won’t sound so unlikely in a year or so.

According to reports, Apple is planning to launch a streaming TV service by Christmas and its internet chief Eddie Cue is negotiating with broadcasters with the intention of enabling to offer their channels as apps.

TV channels as apps

This makes sense not only from the perspective of users of iPad and iPhone devices, but if Apple did indeed bring out a fully fledged television then the notion of channels as apps makes perfect sense. For one thing, Siri – if the TV was voice controlled – could quickly launch the app for you and Apple can integrate these apps with a host of other functions you’d want on a TV interface.

Not only things like voice – think about simply sharing content from your iPad directly onto the screen of a large display wirelessly or between all the different devices you have, from iPhones, to iPads and iPod touches. Content, especially content you have legitimately acquired, should be shareable anywhere in the digital home.

Where this could get very tricky for Apple in the negotiations is subscriptions. What cut Apple would want from the subscriptions and who would own the relationship with the subscriber, Apple or the TV station?

This is exactly the pattern of negotiations and barriers that Apple had to overcome firstly with the music studios and more recently with newspaper and magazine publishers when the iPad was launched.

As usual, Apple will most likely emerge smelling of roses and will have somehow reinvented the TV paradigm.

What will this paradigm look like? My bet is intelligent TV honed to suit each individual viewer’s tastes – and their ability to pay.

Apple’s iTunes is probably the biggest aggregator of credit card data on planet Earth, and Apple could reinvent the TV subscriptions model to be more pay-as-you-go.

One thing is certain – TV will never be the same again.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years