It's long been rumored that Apple was cooking up a revolutionary new device that would let us watch any TV show we want, whenever we want — finally freeing consumers from the expensive multi-channel package deals hawked by cable companies like Time Warner Cable or Cablevision. That version of the Apple TV dream was snuffed out this week when the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple, far from trying to subvert the cable industry, was actually in talks with the cable giants to build them a new kind of set-top box. In other words, say Molly Oswaks and Brian Barrett at Gizmodo, "more of the same." An expensive subscription package, wrapped in a shiny Apple gleam, is still an expensive subscription package. But should we really feel let down? Here's what you should know about the latest developments:
What is Apple planning?
Apparently, "Tim Cook is now more interested in a TV box than a TV set," says Peter Kafka at All Things D. Originally Apple reportedly wanted to reinvent the way people paid for TV, creating a system that would grant subscribers control over the channels they chose to pay for. But the latest reports suggest that consumers are still "going to end up paying someone a monthly fee for a bundle of channels, the majority of which [they] don't watch."
Why is this happening?
The cable companies have too much leverage, and have gone unchallenged for too long. Perhaps Apple was reluctant to drive "very big trucks full of cash up to the existing content guys" — like HBO or AMC — to license their material, says Kafka. TV studio bosses are resistant to a streaming model because it would eliminate the "deep money well of advertising" they get with cable's package deals, says Johnny Evans at Computerworld. Apple wanted ad-free, pay-per-channel TV, but the move was so drastic that content providers are refusing to "play ball," and now Tim Cook and company are forced to compromise.
Why would Apple build a cable box?
It's a classic "can't beat 'em, join 'em" story, says Gizmodo's Oswaks and Barrett, "and it's terrifically disappointing to hear." Come on, everyone's overreacting, says MG Siegler at TechCrunch. Apple understands it can't transform the TV industry overnight. "We all enjoy looking back fondly to the iPhone debut in 2007" as the moment that changed the mobile game, but hindsight is misleading, and the change was more gradual than we make it out to be. Apple's getting into bed with the cable companies just like it did with mobile carriers. Over time, it'll "slowly steal the customers from the cable companies" and have the "actual content producers enamored" of how it does business. Then Apple will have the leverage to do what it wants. Before he died, Steve Jobs said he knew changing the industry would be a "huge pain," says TechCrunch's Siegler. "Sometimes you just have to make a deal with the devil first."