Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Why You’re Not Getting a “Real” Apple TV for Christmas

Track back a few months, and you’ll find lots of assurances from professional Apple watchers that we’d see an Apple-made TV set very soon. Perhaps this fall.

Now the conventional wisdom has shifted again: No TV set, and maybe very little else from Apple on the TV front, in the near future.

The newest version of this thought comes from Pacific Crest analyst Andy Hargreaves, who met with Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer and media boss Eddy Cue on Wednesday. Here’s his takeaway on Apple TV, published in a note yesterday, and first flagged by Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt:

An Apple Television Appears Extremely Unlikely in the Near-term
Relative to the television market, Eddy Cue, Apple SVP of Internet Software and Services, reiterated the company’s mantra that it will enter markets where it feels it can create great customer experiences and address key problems. 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.

Unfortunately for Apple and for consumers, acquiring rights for traditional broadcast and cable network content outside of the current bundled model is virtually impossible because the content is owned by a relatively small group of companies that have little interest in alternative models for their most valuable content. The differences in regional broadcast content and the lack of scale internationally also create significant hurdles that do not seem possible to cross at this point.

Bear in mind that the above is a mashup of Hargreaves’s analysis and guidance from Apple executives. So you’ll have to do some guesswork to figure out exactly what Apple is saying and not saying.

But it makes perfect sense, because it’s what Apple has been saying consistently when asked about Apple TV or any other new product. And it also reflects the truth that anyone who has tried to tackle a TV Of The Future has figured out: Making the tech work better is (relatively) easy. Making the content work better is really hard.

As Business Insider’s Jay Yarow notes, Hargreaves’s takeaway is a bit different from the newest round of Apple TV prognostication, kicked off by reporting in The Wall Street Journal, which posits that Apple is no longer trying to “disrupt” TV, but wants to work with the existing TV Industrial Complex, by making slight tweaks to the model.

But even that reporting suggests that Apple isn’t anywhere close to getting buy-in from cable programmers or providers. And so it can’t bring out new hardware — box, screen or otherwise — until it makes progress there.

That still doesn’t rule out any advances with Apple TV. It would seem totally reasonable for Apple to open its existing Apple TV box to outside developers, which would increase the utility of that hardware significantly without requiring any buy-in from TV Land. Just as Apple TV competitor Roku has already done.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald