There have been quite a few predictions that have been drooled over in the technology media about a pending Apple branded HDTV, all stemming from a comment Steve Jobs' made about cracking the TV interface. It has gone viral from mockups to declarations about Siri being the interface of the future TV. The predictions are exciting, all sound great, but I often wonder just how much is actually just pie in the sky dreaming, and how much is practical.
Apple currently has the Apple TV, which gives you access to your iTunes media on your computer and in iCloud (for music and Television shows), as well as access to YouTube, Vimeo, and Netflix. There are even some premimum channels for Sports fans, which each have their own subscription (though it's really nice to have the scores for free!). The menu is easy to update with new features as they come, and there is a lot of potential with the Apple TV and it's iOS operating system. But how would it work with traditional television sets?
One solution is to have Apple create an interface that is universal for all cable companies and their offerings, with only slight differences in what options are presented based on the cable company being used. It's a great idea in principle, but becomes problematic in practice. Apple doesn't have a strong history of being friendly to the dictates of other companies, but to provide their services with the same clean interface as the rest of their offerings they would find themselves in that spot. They would need to work with every cable provider in the US and other countries they provide this "Apple HDTV" experience in order to get them to standardize their receiver interface, or create plugins that will allow Apple to set the interface while correctly accessing the cable companies content. It's possible, but risky if jailbroken Apple HDTV's will allow free viewing of cable content. That becomes a hurdle, and a big one for the cable companies.
Another solution is to bypass the cable companies completely and work directly with content providers with a subscription based service for their offerings. Instead of purchasing a "package", users would subscribe to the channels they want, and only the channels they want, and it would all be done much the same way as Netflix, MLB TV, NBA TV, etc. It's a great concept in principle, because the consumer wins by only having the channels they want, and only paying for the channels they want. But would it work? It would mean increased pressure on bandwidth if it became widespread, as well as cutting cable companies profits from those "cutting the cord" on cable and satellite. That means broadband internet prices could likely go up, and some companies not to fond of competition could, perhaps, start "filtering" specific content or sources. There are a lot of legal issues that would come into play in this scenario, where the customer could ultimately lose.
And then there is the issue of local network television access vs. access to the syndicated content they provide. Will a local channel be able to provide their content on an Apple HDTV with the subscription model with the blessing of the studio? How would it be provided? And what about all the money they have just recently sunk into the new HD broadcast infrastructure? Would they embrace an internet delivery method? One huge issue I can see coming down the pipe is studios no longer sitting on a collection of shows to please everyone, but rather being merited by each show they do provide. It's scary water to be navigating with some well established studios (like NBC and CBS) reaching the brink of bankruptcy. They may be too afraid of breaking anything up for fear of losing valuable advertising. And that brings up another major issue: advertising. Who gets to advertise in this new internet delivery system? Who gets the revenue? How can it be monetized? These questions would need to be answered.
The fundamental question I ask is, how can current television viewing be made better? Not just in what you see, but how you find what you want and how you access it at the right time. That's the question we as consumers should be asking, because that is the same question Steve Jobs and the developers at Apple asked when they looked at a project. It's what those currently working at Apple do every day. They worry not about what features to add, but what features to remove in order to increase usability and fluid design. That's what makes an Apple product, well, an Apple.
Personally, I like the idea of subscribing to individual channels. And I can see this as, well, Apps in the Apple TV App Store (which would need to be created, of course) that would allow you to browse for your favorite channel and subscribe. Not sure you want the entire channel, but just a show? Subscribe to the show instead, and have it stream through iCloud. I see it as the most viable option for Apple, particularly if they can tie in a subscription based service for iTunes in the bargain. But to do so would mean Networks placing their futures into the hands of Apple in a way that even Music didn't, which is scary for so many reasons.
I would like to see someone work out a deal with Networks to provide their materials as a flat-rate subscription, and have users only pay for the channels they are going to watch, or even only the shows they would like to see. Do that all with a simple interface, clean design, and a free update to existing Apple TV boxes, and in my mind Apple would have truly created something revolutionary and magical.