My cable provider is pretty terrible. I don’t need to name any names because this likely applies to your cable provider as well. They are all horrible. I often experience drops on popular channels, get bonus filler channels that no one wants, and see indiscriminate additional subscription fees and charges without any real reason. This Onion article, though it is satire, doesn’t stray too far from the truth.
For a very casual TV watcher, it’s not a great experience – to put it mildly.
So the prospect of an Apple web TV service with a price tag of around $40, as the WSJ and others reported last night, is highly appealing to me if it means I can catch the few shows I watch now without the hassle of my cable subscription. I’ll still be tied to the monopolies for Internet service which isn’t terrific, but the theoretical ‘Apple Cable’ service has the potential to fix a number of problems for me.
Apple started off its March event with the announcement that HBO Now, the premium network’s new $15/month web service, will be available with 3-month exclusivity on the App Store and Apple TV at launch next month. While we’ve heard for quite some time that Apple is developing a web TV service, and the upcoming HBO Now channel seems to be the best taste of what that could offer. I’m hopeful that the potential ‘Apple Cable’ can solve my cable subscription woes. Here’s how:
Apple Cable is Cable for Cord Cutters
For starters, I know that an awful lot of people just don’t subscribe to cable or satellite anymore. I’ve cut the cord in the past, but there’s still not a competing service that offers as wide a variety of live content. Even the current Apple TV is much more capable with a cable subscription as the majority of channels require logging in with credentials.
With content available on-demand and online through services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, and YouTube/Google Play, it definitely feels archaic to pay a premium cost to view content at a single location and at a set time each day or wrestle with a DVR that requires a lot of front end programming. My first guess is that people that don’t subscribe to cable would surely subscribe to what I call Apple Cable.
At even just 25 channels said to be available at launch (and something similar from NBC in the works), the package will likely include the few channels that people actually care about rather than the filler content littered on my current cable lineup. I’ve never met a cable channel menu interface that wasn’t a total turn off, and bringing the current channels I do watch to Apple TV interface without next-day delays is highly appealing.
Of course even the current Apple TV interface needs a lot of work, search and discovery being high on my list, but for me the quantity of unwanted content is its biggest problem. A lineup that resembles something closer to cable today would make better use of the home screen layout.
Apple’s Negotiating Weight
Apple is historically a negotiating heavyweight. See iTunes and the music industry, the iPhone and carriers, and most recently Apple Pay and banks. The company largely gets what it wants when cutting a deal.
While Apple may not get the record labels to budge on streaming music costs per month like it wants, Eddy Cue has to be a better negotiator than whoever’s running the show at my current cable provider.
It’s no longer a surprise to learn that channels will be dropped from my lineup and replaced with alternatives that don’t offer the same content. My cable provider is the same as my Internet provider, and the inability to cut deals creates ridiculous holes across the web.
For example, not only did my cable provider lose Viacom channels including Comedy Central and MTV several years ago, but actually visiting those sites online results in a black box for video playback. It’s the same story for any Viacom apps. Similar stories make the headlines with other providers all the time.
Apple Cable, Available Anywhere with Internet Access
For my own cable woes, the prospective Apple Cable service based on the web will do just what the Internet is best at: make information available. At my current address, my cable provider is the only option for traditional television service. Satellite options are available at a premium cost, but that option requires jumping through hoops and long term commitments that aren’t appealing to me.
The prospective Apple Cable will use the Internet to overcome infrastructure and municipal restrictions to be more widely available than current offers. Using the HBO Now model, Apple Cable becomes available wherever you take your iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV (assuming you’re in the United States).
Apple TV as the Set Top Box, iPad as the Mobile TV
The set top box and streaming stick competition has heated up over the last three years since Apple first introduced its third-generation Apple TV device. I have a Google Chromecast attached to the small TV in my kitchen that has served me well, and many Apple TV lovers have grown tired of the product stagnation and performance issues and turned to the Amazon Fire TV instead. Roku, of course, has maintained a respectable presence in this space as well. Making the Apple TV the modern version of the set top boxes that cable companies issue completely changes the product, at least until the competition manages to get their own similar deals in order.
If Apple Cable makes the Apple TV the modern cable set top box, then it makes both the iPhone and iPad the new mobile TV. Sure, we have the TVs in our living rooms now, but the bedroom TV has been replaced by the iPhone and iPad for many, and it’s a whole other story when you consider the same TV experience at home as in transit. For many people, the iPad has been a device asking for a clearer purpose. Even with the iPhone 6 Plus in the lineup, the full-sized iPad is a superior for viewing video content. I can see Apple Cable being a major selling point for the iPad that’s much more digestible than iTunes and the combination of Netflix, Hulu, and similar services.
iCloud as the New DVR
Finally, and this may all be a pipe dream, but the value of upgrading to paid iCloud storage tiers would greatly increase if the cloud storage service could replace the DVR as we know it. Apple currently offers a tiny 5GB of free iCloud storage and up to 1TB of cloud space for $19.99/month. With the reported Apple web TV service price sitting around $30-$40, positioning iCloud storage upgrades as a way to “record” content not otherwise available immediately on-demand is something I can get behind. I currently pay $3.99/month for 200GB to fit my family photo library in the cloud. Adding some sort of DVR-like functionality to iCloud could easily convince me to move to at least the 500GB $9.99/month tier.
We could see the new Apple web TV as soon as WWDC in early June alongside updated Apple TV hardware and a brand-new music subscription service based on Beats. HBO Now will provide a preview of the prospective Apple Cable experience next month, but if this plays out I see a much wider reaching benefit for cord cutters and cable subscribers alike.