A Brief History of Apple’s TV Troubles

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Steve Jobs might’ve had Apple’s TV revolution all figured out, but the TV industry sure doesn’t want to let it happen–at least not on Apple’s terms.

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal brought word that Apple is negotiating with cable companies on some sort of set-top box for live TV and other content. “The talks represent Apple’s most ambitious crack at infiltrating the living room after years of trying,” says the Journal.

But then, the Journal adds this:

Apple doesn’t appear to have reached a deal with any cable operators. One obstacle may be the reluctance of operators to let Apple establish a foothold in the television business.

So basically, the very thing that Apple wants to do–get into the TV business–is considered an “obstacle” by the companies that Apple’s trying to work with. Sounds like those negotiations are going pretty well!

(MORE: Why the TV Industry Can’t Ignore Apple)

This is not surprising at all. For years, Apple has tried to plant the seeds of TV revolution, only to get stonewalled by TV networks, movie studios and service providers, who’d rather not disrupt their existing businesses.

Yet every so often, we see another story proclaiming that Apple is super serious about negotiating, like, for real this time, guys. As TechCrunch’s Ryan Lawler notes, some outlets have a short memory. So here’s a refresher of Apple’s many attempts to make TV inroads, none of which have come to fruition:

August 2009, Apple Insider:

Munster believes that Apple will eventually offer a monthly subscription offer for TV shows on iTunes. At a cost of $30 to $40 a month, he said the company could offer unlimited access to content from network and cable providers. If the Cupertino, Calif., company were to offer a subscription model, he believes it would replace a consumer’s cable bill.

A cheap TV service that lets you cancel your bloated cable bill? And all Apple needs is for cable companies and TV networks to sign on? What could go wrong?

April 2011, Business Insider:

Apple is on the cusp of launching a “a new far reaching cloud-based service” focused on video, writes Jefferies analyst Peter Misek in a big report this morning.

Misek says Apple will use its new massive data center in North Carolina to offer an advanced web-based video subscription product that rivals Netflix.

Not sure what the statute of limitations is on cusps, but 14 months later, I think we can rule this report bogus.

August 2011, Business Insider, Again Quoting Peter Misek:

“As part of Apple’s roll-out of cloud video services (and eventually an iTV), we believe Apple has unannounced deals with all/most of the studios/TV networks that are similar to the subscription streaming deal between Amazon and CBS.”

That was a year ago. Still waiting for the big announcement.

August 2011, Los Angeles Times:

From the beginning, the 99-cent rental struggled for traction. Major television studios, including Warner Bros., NBCUniversal and CBS, refused to offer popular shows through Apple at such a discount. They didn’t want to undermine the still-nascent market for digital purchases.

Former Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs lobbied aggressively a year ago to get the television industry on board, but only Walt Disney Co.’s ABC and News Corp.’s Fox signed up.

Apple said consumers preferred to buy, rather than rent, their TV shows. But the TV networks never embraced the idea, either.

January 2012, USA Today:

But a major roadblock for Apple along the way has been securing content needed to make an iTV succeed.

They say Apple has been unable to cut deals that would let it offer first-tier TV network programs for an à la carte iTunes TV service. That’s seen as a key element to launching a revolutionary iTV.

Here, it’s unclear whether Apple was negotiating with TV networks or service providers. But whoever it is, they’re not interested. Same as before.

February 2012, The Globe and Mail:

Rogers Communications Inc. and BCE Inc. are in talks with Apple Inc. to become Canadian launch partners for its much-hyped Apple iTV, a product that has the potential to revolutionize TV viewing by turning conventional televisions into gigantic iPads.

Who knows whether anything has come of those negotiations, but the story doesn’t mention any major resistance from TV providers up north, or any deals in place.

March 2012, New York Post:

While Apple harbors big TV ambitions, it’s having a tough time getting media companies to play along.

Apple is pushing ahead with plans to launch a streaming TV service by Christmas — despite making little headway in its negotiations with content providers, The Post has learned.

A streaming TV service with no content? Where do I sign up?

March 2012, Hollywood Reporter:

Moonves told a conference audience that he met with Jobs, the late Apple CEO, and heard a pitch for what was billed as a subscription content service, but ultimately he said he wasn’t interested in providing CBS shows or films to the venture.

Moonves didn’t want to mess with CBS’ existing revenue streams, of course.

The possibility of Apple negotiating with cable companies raises all sorts of interesting questions. I could write whole new blog posts, filled with speculation about how the whole thing might go down, what the technology could be like, and what it means for rivals like Microsoft and its Xbox 360.

All of that seems pointless, however, without a sense that a deal is anywhere close to reality. Right now, Apple’s in the same place it’s always been–at arm’s length from a business that sees Apple as a threat.

MORE: How the Long-Rumored Apple Television Set Might Work

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Abiel Abuy
Abiel Abuy

What Apple needs to do is to provide the distribution channel that content owners will like and make sure that the content owners are and will still be in control of their contents and of course money will keep rolling in. OR since they have shit-load of cash... just acquire one of these TV networks, movie studios and service providers


It’s fascinating how so many people believe that the Internet is a viable alternative for TV. First, you don’t have anywhere NEAR the bandwidth you think you do. And worse, the more everyone tries to cut their cable in favor of Internet TV,  the faster the bandwidth limits and the overage charges will kick in and force everyone to start watching their Internet usage like their utilities. And roommates sharing an Internet connection? Fat chance. Anyone who wants Internet can obtain their own latency-throttled satellite connection. That will put the whole issue of streaming ANYTHING to rest for good.

The sad fact is that bandwidth on the Internet has, and always, will be a finite and limited resource for everyone except the government and Santa Claus. This was readily accepted once, but gets forgotten the second someone gets a sales pitch for streaming TV. All of these companies are selling a pipe dream to a pipe that will be filled and useless soon and they really couldn’t care less once they have your money.


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Given the money Apple has in the bank, it might just buy the companies and be done with it. 

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

I like how this situation with TV/movies is playing itself out exactly like it did 10-15 years ago with music. The industry pitches its fit about pirates, wins some hollow victories, and then someone pisses in their cheerios with a service that turns the previous business model on its head. Apple is most likely going to be the ones to make this service, though it pains me to say that. They've got the groundwork laid with iTunes, and they've got the money to buy friends amongst the content creators/providers. I wish it could be someone else, since we had to fight Apple for rights to the things we bought (remember the DRM on the songs we bought when iTunes first launched), and we'll have to go through that again. It'll still be better than the status quo though. I would bet second on Hulu, since they already have an amazing service/format that's just lacking a bit in content. I personally think a Hulu with more content/currently airing shows would be perfect.


I believe that Apple did not require the DRM on music but rather the music labels did.  It was only much later that Apple and all the others were able to get rid of the DRM.  

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

That's one way to spin it. Apple has a history of trying to control consumers, so even if it was the idea of the music labels, I highly doubt Apple fought it. I would even go so far as to say they thought it was a good idea, seeing as they were the last major distributor of music to ditch DRM.


Joshua Zeegers
Joshua Zeegers

As a person that doesn't subscribe to cable T.V. I'd love to see Apple revolutionize the industry.  Why pay for a bunch of channels that are, immoral and horrible for our society.  If the cable operators don't change thier ways and wake up to the damage they cause with all the filth they broadcast.  I hope the likes of mobile broadband puts them straight out of business.  


Good article, but you are leaving out a few things:  Number of cord-cutters (people who chose to live without cable, only internet) is at 1.5 million this year. There is a huge market opportunity there. Second, content providers do NOT have a happy relationship with cable companies. These are shotgun marriages, at best. The fear is that Apple would disrupt the business model like they did with the Music industry. Before Apple we were all forced to buy an album with songs we didn't care about or buy a tape with the single in it. Period. Apple changed all that and TV content providers are creative when it comes to content, but not about their business model