Hypothetical Television Set

The rumour mill seems abuzz with the idea that Apple might produce their own television, and not just another Apple TV box. These rumours flared up again today, like a bad case of herpes, as the chief of Foxconn was paraphrased in China Daily:

Gou said Foxconn is making preparations for iTV, Apple Inc’s rumored upcoming high-definition television, although development or manufacturing has yet to begin.

iTV reportedly features an aluminum construction, Siri, and FaceTime video calling

Foxconn’s recent 50-50 joint venture factory with Sharp in Japan is one of the preparations made for the new device, Gou added.

As I see it, Apple’s hypothetical television has to perform two distinct functions, which all TVs sold today do. Interestingly, it’s irrelevant as to whether they produce an actual TV, or just another box. The success of it is dependent on the ability to perform these two tasks.

The first reason one watches TV is to catch a specific show. Apple can nail that with their content provider contracts, because networks and studios need that level of far-reaching distribution in the future. They need to make it affordable, though.

Cable TV is around $30 per month. The price of an iTunes season pass varies, but it’s also around $30, and a season is 20-24 episodes long. In simple, slightly-bullshit math, that’s 5-6 months, or $150-180 worth of cable. If you watch 5-6 shows regularly, you are getting the same deal on iTunes as you are with cable. Any more than that and cable starts to win the value competition, and that’s without factoring in shows that don’t offer a season pass, like The Daily Show in Canada.

But television fulfills a second purpose of background available-anytime entertainment. When you buy a cable TV package, you’re buying a few channels you enjoy, several you don’t care about, and a few that you might watch occasionally. The current Apple TV model cannot satisfy this second requirement effectively, and it would take a massive and highly-unlikely contract renegotiation to make it work.

Granted, the Apple TV has YouTube and Vimeo, both of which have excellent discoverable content. This is still amateur content, for the most part, and that quality creates a mental schism for many people who want to watch professionally-produced shows. It also lacks the familiarity of a channel like TSN1 or National Geographic which have an expected genre of content.

Apple needs their equivalent of channels. A way to stream video at any time in any genre. Apple, in essence, needs to become an internet cable TV provider for their television to fulfill the duties of a regular set2 in a distinctly Apple fashion.

  1. Substitute your local sports channel here. ↥︎

  2. If there were standards for cable boxes, Apple could always build a decoder into their TV, but there aren’t. ↥︎