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Is Apple Getting Ready To Reinvent TV?By Barry Levine
Posted: November 16, 2012 11:11am PST
'Tis the season for...more rumors about a new kind of Apple TV. Just in time for the holiday season, there's a new report that Apple really, really, really intends to shake up the television industry.
Having already reinvented the industries of desktop publishing, personal computers, music, phones, and tablets, among others, any indication that the technology giant is seriously interested in the TV industry gets attention. The key impetus behind the latest rumors is a research note earlier this week by analyst James Kisner of Jefferies & Co., reporting that at least one major, unnamed cable company in the U.S. was looking into how much additional bandwidth Apple would need for a broadband network supporting a new high-definition TV product from that company.
Kisner, who had sent out similar information in October, suggested that a launch of such a major new product from Apple was "imminent." Additionally, The Wall Street Journal reported in August that Apple had been in talks with several large U.S. cable companies about allowing its consumers to use an Apple device as a set-top box.
Apple already has a low-key Apple TV product, which enables Net-delivered video fare to be watched on a TV, but is not a TV screen itself. The various reports thus far have not indicated if a new product, if and when one exists, would primarily be a set-top box that is a next generation of the current Apple TV, or if it would be an HDTV screen, or both.
Additionally, Time Warner Cable has recently said that it would consider selling TV subscriptions that involved someone's else's technology and interface. Industry observers are assuming that "someone else" was Apple.
But, while those hints indicate that Apple has been talking to the cable industry, there are also other reports that the company is not ready to make any major move in the immediate future. In August, for instance, another analyst -- Pacific Crest's Andy Hargreaves -- published a note following a meeting with Apple executives. It was headlined: "An Apple Television Appears Extremely Unlikely in the Near-Term."
The key reason, Hargreaves said, was because of the difficulties Apple would encounter in providing content that differs from the current multi-channel, pay TV model, largely because the content is controlled by a few companies.
'Is Apple Interested?'
Of course, there could be some other disruptive models that Apple is developing. In its reinvention of other industries, the company has typically put together various pieces, supplied missing ones, and dramatically simplified the process to create a new model. As an example, a new Apple set-top box could provide Net-delivered video programming as well as cable-delivered channels, all integrated into a much easier to use interface on the TV screen than is now currently available.
The box could also possibly incorporate second screens, such as the iPhone or tablets, more smoothly into the TV watching experience -- all without reinventing cable channels or having to produce a better physical TV screen. This scenario could also be of substantial interest to cable TV companies, because it could help them to slow down or reverse the loss of younger viewers, who are dramatically cutting back their TV watching in favor of Net, texting and other second-screen activity.
But all of the rumors, reports and speculation are not convincing to Michael Gartenberg, research director at Gartner. He pointed to the lack of named sources for some of the information, as well as the lack of any details.
"Is Apple interested in the TV screen in the living room?" Gartenberg asked, to which he replied that they "absolutely" were -- as evidenced by their existing Apple TV product. No one, he noted, has presented any convincing evidence beyond that assessment.
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