We recently noted how the rumors of an Apple television have being going on for years, despite the fact that TV networks and cable companies don’t seem too enthused about working with Apple. If you think any of that’s about to change, word from within Apple may suggest otherwise.
As FORTUNE reports, Pacific Crest analyst Andy Hargreaves recently met with Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer and Eddy Cue, senior vice president for Internet services and software, and came away unconvinced that an Apple HDTV is coming soon. And of course, it’s not an issue of technology, but of content, according to Hargreaves:
The key problems in the television market are the poor quality of the user interface and the forced bundling of pay TV content, in our view. While Apple could almost certainly create a better user interface, Mr. Cue’s commentary suggested that this would be an incomplete solution from Apple’s perspective unless it could deliver content in a way that is different from the current multichannel pay TV model.
It’s worth noting that this note from Hargreaves doesn’t quote Cue directly. I’m not even sure how much of it is paraphrasing, versus Hargreaves reading into whatever Cue actually did say.
But let’s assume that “forced bundling” is the main sticking point, and that Apple doesn’t like the idea of making people pay for a hundred channels they don’t watch. Why would TV networks and service providers, who both benefit from charging for a big bucket of channels, have any interest in changing their ways? None of the rumors I’ve seen so far have answered that question.
Even if Apple accepts bundling as a necessary evil, that still doesn’t guarantee smooth negotiations. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, Apple’s vision involves blurring the line between live and on-demand television by letting people watch any show at any time. But any significant expansion of on-demand content as part of a cable subscription would threaten other revenue sources for the TV industry, such as Hulu Plus subscriptions or episode purchases on iTunes. (The Journal notes, for instance, that Apple wants all episodes of current-season TV shows included in a subscription, even as most cable providers limit their on-demand offers to the last few episodes.)
On top of all this, Apple would have to successfully negotiate with multiple cable companies, telcos, satellite providers and TV networks, or else its product launch would be limited in scope. Hargreaves describes these issues as “significant hurdles that do not seem possible to cross at this point.” (Again, it’s not clear to what extent he’s channeling Eddy Cue there, if at all.)
The only way I see any of this changing is if TV providers start to feel sufficiently threatened by cord-cutting to the point that shaking up their business model becomes more about survival than growth. There’s some evidence that it’s happening–the pay TV industry lost about 400,000 subscribers last quarter, for example–but the change isn’t drastic enough to cause an industry-wide panic, at least not yet.
That may change in the long run, at which point Apple’s plans may seem more enticing. I hope that’s what happens. But at the moment, it seems reasonable not to expect an Apple television anytime soon, no matter who’s saying it.