Here’s what we do know: Apple has been working on a new version of Apple TV, a set-top box that lets users stream movies, TV shows and other content from iTunes and a select set of Internet content providers onto their high-definition televisions.
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What we don’t know is when exactly it will be released — or what new content Apple will bring to market with the device.
The idea that Apple might be assembling its own Internet-based TV service by licensing programming rights directly from media companies and bypassing cable operators was being viewed as less likely, according to reports this week from Bloomberg News and the Wall Street Journal. Both said that Apple, after failing to convince programmers and cable operators to sign on with its TV service, was finally in negotiations with Time Warner Cable and others about having the cable operators acquire the programming rights on Apple’s behalf.
Not an ideal solution, but better than continuing having limited content for AppleTV.
But those reports came before Comcast announced it was buying rival Time Warner Cable in a deal valued at $45 billion. That transaction could make it harder for Apple to negotiate a favorable deal for AppleTV given that Comcast has its own set-top box, the X1, and would likely be uninterested in ceding any part of the Internet TV market over to a competitor.
Let’s rewind first.
Apple watchers have been hoping for the last few years that the company would disrupt the TV industry the same way it did the music industry with its iPod music player and iTunes store. Though Cook hasn’t offered any details, he’s hinted at Apple’s TV ambitions. “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,” Cook said in a December 2012 interview with NBC. “It’s an area of intense interest. I can’t say more than that.”
9to5Mac.com earlier this week pointed to mentions of a new AppleTV in Apple’s iOS 7 mobile-operating software as proof that a faster new version of the device will be introduced this year. Apple TV went on sale in 2007 and was last updated in early 2013. It sells for $99 and though the company doesn’t typically disclose sales numbers for AppleTV, Apple CEO Tim Cook said at the AllThingsD conference in May 2013 that Apple had sold a total 13 million devices, with about half of those sales in the last year.
Yesterday, Bloomberg News reported that a new version of AppleTV will be released during the 2014 year’s end holiday season. The Wall Street Journal then followed that story with one of its own saying that Apple is scaling back its TV industry plans. Instead of trying to sign deals with media companies directly to create its own Internet-based TV service with both streamed and live content, Apple has been talking to cable companies and pay TV distributors about delivering content through a new device that could be released as early as June, the WSJ said. “Apple envisages working with cable companies, rather than competing against them,” the newspaper said, citing sources. “For programming, it would rely on cable providers to acquire programming rights from media companies, rather than acquire them on its own, the people said. Apple might consider seeking some rights directly in the future.”
An agreement with Time Warner Cable “would mark the first such deal with a cable or satellite company,” Bloomberg noted, and give AppleTV users a wider selection of live TV options. Today, AppleTV offers channel apps from a few content providers including Disney, ABC, ESPN, HBO, PBS and Bloomberg TV — but AppleTV users can only access those them on tneeding to already pay for cable and satellite in order to receive content through the apps.
So what does the Comcast deal for Apple and AppleTV? We’ll see. (USA Today tech columnist John Shinal points out in his analysis of the Comcast-TWC takeover that Apple and Netflix users might want to write to Congress opposing the acquisition).
But without additional content, Apple TV may continue to be what former Apple CEO Steve Jobs often called it: a “hobby” rather than a potential major new line of business.