Apple's Promised TV Revolution Will Be More Of The Same Crap, Thanks To Terrified Cable & Broadcast Executives

from the killing-innovation-in-the-cradle dept

For countless years we’ve all been inundated with rumors that a television revolution would soon be delivered any day now by Apple, whose legendary former CEO at one point claimed he had “cracked the code” on delivering a truly disruptive, intuitive and innovative TV platform. Yet this miracle TV revolution never seems to materialize, and it’s not (outside of perhaps Apple’s marketing machine) really the fault of Apple. The road toward TV disruption is littered with the corpses of countless similar projects from the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Google. With a few small successes, every last one of them has inevitably run, face-first and at full-sprint, into a restrictive broadcast-industry content licensing wall used to prevent disruption.

The press certainly shares some of the blame as well for over-hyping products on demand, as most recently made evident by the collapse of Intel’s TV ambitions. Intel’s OnCue system was presented in 2012 as the next great TV revolution that was sure to arrive any day now. That was, until a slow drip of reports indicated that they too couldn’t get around broadcast-industry licensing restrictions. That technology has since been sold on the cheap to Verizon, who’ll utilize the useful bits and sit on the rest, afraid of offering anything that could possibly cannibalize their legacy TV FIOS user base.

Apple has been hammering their head against this same brick wall for the better part of a decade now, and even though the business and earnings potential of a well-built Apple-based hardware partnership could potentially be immense, the broadcast and cable industry is too terrified to budge. Rumors have ranged over the years from an Apple TV set to a live a la carte TV subscription service, and now have skidded to an underwhelming halt with Apple having to settle for what’s just an Apple TV hardware and GUI refresh with a lovely coat of underachieved ambition. From the Wall Street Journal:

In 2012, the Journal reported that Apple was talking with cable operators like Time Warner Cable about a set-top box and was approaching media companies to gain rights for an ambitious Internet-based digital-video-recording service through the box. At the time, it was looking to offer full seasons of current shows, as well as live programming. Last year, it approached media companies with a proposal to pay extra for ad-free programming.

But it couldn’t complete a deal. Programmers resisted the idea of ad-free TV, and Time Warner Cable balked at some of Apple’s early proposals, which included Apple essentially taking over the cable operator’s video-on-demand service.

Worse, the Journal notes, is that Apple was only able to acquire “just the most recent five episodes of current-season shows,” and is having to battle for the ability to fast-forward commercials three days after they air (which they may not even get). So Apple’s ambitions went from Steve Jobs dreaming about revolutionizing the sector, to yet another product intentionally hamstrung so it underwhelms (in much the same way the industry has relentlessly crippled Hulu). Can’t you just feel the cutting edge excitement?

Many like to argue that Apple managed to help revolutionize music sales and can do the same here, but it’s precisely the cable and broadcast executive fear of that history that has made securing flexible licenses such a Sisyphean feat. On the bright side, like any good disruption-phobic legacy industry, they can only delay inevitable evolution, not kill it. It might be Apple, it most-likely will be somebody else, and it may take the better part of the next decade — but it’s coming eventually whether the myopic and timid cable industry likes it or not.

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Comments on “Apple's Promised TV Revolution Will Be More Of The Same Crap, Thanks To Terrified Cable & Broadcast Executives”

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Londo Mollari (profile) says:

Yes, fools all of them. Those giant birds?what do you Earthers call them? Ah, I remember now. Ostriches. That is what cable television executives are like. That is what most entertainment industry executives are like, to be more precise. Except that I think ostriches have more sense. Fortunately, progress will happen whether these fools wish it or not. Technology has a certain inevitability about it.

JWW (profile) says:


Its is being rumored that the Comcast – Time Warner merger deal has nixed a deal the Apple was working on with Time Warner to do these things.

The cable and cell industries abilities to see their customers only as prisoners who are to be given super crappy service and are to be charged exorbitant rates is a truly hideous state of affairs.

Customer Service is truly dead and buried Customer Servants is what these horrible companies want.

Anonymous Coward says:

Their intransigence will doom them eventually. It can’t come soon enough for me.

As the saying goes, “Adapt or die.” They are choosing the latter, which is their choice to make if that’s what they want to do. But, they needn’t whine to consumers when we’re dancing on their corpse.

They are government granted monopolies. They are behaving like the bloated monopolies they are. And they will collapse under their own weight. It’s just going to take a long time to happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

weird how they resisted an add-free option here, and they planned to kill the add-supported free version of hulu (have they? I can’t get hulu so I don’t know).

It’s even way way worse than simply not being able to give them money even if you wanted to (did I say I can’t get Hulu?), and even the fact that complete on-demand viewing is still not possible (well OK, it is, it got a bit harder after megaupload was shot down, but similar services still offer a way better, easier, and faster experience than the Official ones). The *worst* part is that in their blind grab for control over everything they are cutting off our posterity from the culture of today.

I think that in a few centuries, historians will look back at our time as the dark ages of intellectual property. A world where, even though we managed to connect almost every corner of the earth with near-instantaneous and virtually limitless data channels, we, as collective societies, managed to make it incredibly and artifically hard to actually do what we do best: share culture.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think the best way to revolutionize TV is to do… nothing.

And with nothing I mean nothing. don’t do anything for TV don’t talk about TV just forget it and let it rot.

Concentrate on building new platforms and services, that embrace the nature of the internet as a communication network instead of a broadcast medium. TV is an outdated medium that will fall into obscurity when it cannot match the usefulness of services that allow actual communication.

rapnel says:

Re: Re:

I’m that opinion, AC ^. It would seem to me the most logical and relevant option.

Television is not much more than a drug anyway. A least effort reward of the tiniest proportions. A curious choreographed designer drug that strips your gold for a hookup, steals time and influences your schedules and the only aim is to strap you in for hits of adverts while they keep the gold veins open. Hook me up, brah. You know I”m good for it.

Media conglomerates need to be broken up. No carriers should be combined with content providers. And no government combined with either. Collection societies need a beating and creators unleashed can thrive or fail.

Studios, authors and artists? Your middle tiers, agents and benefactors aged and old are raping you and have turned you into content factories and bitches. That’s great but you’re stuff needs to stand on its own now. Pass or fail. Given that all communications have been paved into a two-way street – it’s either released or it’s not. Theaters and dvd and streams and torrents and downloads of high quality and low are considerately available globally in any one day.

The piper is getting paid both ways and progress, the public and the arts suffer at the expense of us all.


Fuck TV.

& Fuck Comcast & Time Warner. Fuck Verizon & Fuck AT&T. Lay the pipe, wire the tower, step the fuck back and shut the fuck up. That’s what we’re paying you for. It’s high time to let the riders decide. .. ooohh, rantalicious.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Remember there’d be no Android without Apple’s success with the iPhone.”

I don’t think that’s true at all. Smart phones existed before the iPhone, and the system that became Android was in development before the iPhone hit the market.

Sooner or later, one of the smartphones would have hit it big. It just happened to be the iPhone. If that never existed, it would have been one of the others — perhaps even Android (maybe under a different name).

The iPhone actually reduced the variety and competition in the marketplace (which was due for a shakeout anyway, so that would have happened regardless of who the Big Hit was.)

Anonymous Coward says:

i wonder if different industries, companies and, in particular, politicians, will ever realise and accept just how the entertainment industries in all the various forms, are totally screwing everyone, including themselves, through nothing but 30+ year old stick in the mud attitudes and abject fear? the advances in all types of entertainment, including more services, better services, better quality content, easier accessibility have been slowed, to say the least, stopped, whenever possible, all to prevent any of the existing and traditional forms from having to advance and compete! the totally selfish attitude is disgraceful, not just of the industries as a whole but of those in charge of those industries. the public are being cheated by the prevention of any type of adaption to the digital age and providing the type of content that is available via the Internet. instead of doing what these industries should, they bribe ever thankful politicians into aiding them as much as is possible. in doing so, the greatest distribution medium invented is being used as a weapon against everyone and everything, everywhere, just to prevent the moving of these industries with the times. any politician that is involved in these tactics need to be exposed and then relieved of office as soon as possible! basically, they are guilty of crimes against the people! disgraceful way to act considering they are supposed to not be bias in one particular direction but keep a sensible balance!

Rich Fiscus (profile) says:

If I owned a bunch of Apple stock this would be the reason I decided to start unloading it. Not because this one deal will destroy them financially. It almost certainly won’t. But to me it’s the first ironclad proof that Steve Jobs did not leave the company in capable hands.

First a disclaimer. I don’t own any Apple products nor do I have any interest in owning any. I’m not some frothing at the mouth Steve Jobs fanboy. I don’t believe he had some unique and mystical vision of the future. As a supposed tech guru he was fantastic at packaging and marketing.

Once you peel back the legend, though, what you’re left with is one of the all time great CEOs and that’s the reason Apple didn’t make this deal when he was alive. His brilliance was not in understanding technology – he really didn’t. His success at Apple (the second time around) was the result of recognizing when a product was ready for the existing market and perhaps even his ignorance of the technology.

Until the day he died Jobs insisted Apple TV was just “a hobby.” That was a lie, but a necessary one. The truth is he always envisioned it as the platform for some new killer video app. He also recognized that the legacy players who controlled all the content hadn’t been beat up enough by the market to pull their heads out of their asses.

Instead of letting the broadcast and production industries bend Apple over he dismissed it as a hobby to keep investors and analysts off his back. At the same time he did everything he could to saturate the market with Apple TV boxes, quite successfully I should add. Before he stepped down it had overtaken even Roku for a commanding lead in the Internet set-top box market.

He knew the same things Mike has been publishing here at Techdirt for years. It was only a matter of time before the real world came crashing in and a bunch of shell shocked broadcast executives would show up begging for access to Apple’s massive network of set-top box customers and they would agree to stupid terms to secure it.

Steve Jobs didn’t know what the service he intended to sell one day was going to be. Or if he thought he did it’s a sure bet he was wrong. But he knew for sure that begging the broadcasting industry for scraps was a sucker’s bet and he was right.

And now we know Apple is being run by suckers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Too bad it’s impossible for Apple to make its own shows.

Oh wait, they can. Their “revolution” is just skimming some revenue off of shows that someone else had to take a risk with their own time and money to make.

It’s not really a “monopoly” if Apple is free to find or produce its own content. Surely there are plenty of artists out there who would love to team with Apple. A lot of them are probably using Apple’s own tools to produce that content.

But somehow its the cable companies’ fault that Apple wants to make all the money without taking any of the risk or doing any of the work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Legacy content owners have a distribution channel and contracts with that channel that prevent them from seeking other channels. Apple is trying to get away with being just a content distributor, like Netflix did in its earlier years.

From the point that typical internet connections became fast enough to stream video, a different distribution channel with no middleman contracts became available. Content providers, poorly funded so far in many cases, moved to internet distribution, and so has Netflix, producing their own content.

As new and unencumbered providers continue to produce for the new distribution system, viewership on the old system will gradually erode to the point that the ad revenue can’t pay for the infrastructure and the system will collapse under its own weight.

The revolution has to come from lots of providers. Even if Apple went into content creation and competed with providers they distribute, they won’t make a dent in the old system alone. The old system will survive until it becomes irrelevant. Content not bound to the ball and chain of cable will make cable irrelevant.

The new distribution system kills the bundle concept that turns 10 decent channels into 128 channels of garbage. If McDonalds made a happy meal like cable TV bundling, it would include a mandatory lump of pig shit. If we want HBO, we have to take the pig shit that is Weather Channel and MTV.

The old system markets that pig shit as life-giving. Cable company website cloudbursts shout “128 channels!” But truth in advertising should really drive them to say “10 channels you’re going to watch that we break even on and 118 channels you won’t where we make all our margin by creating quality in perception above quality in fact.”

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