Apple rumors swirl practically every week, but there’s rarely one that’s as potentially game-changing as this one: According to insiders, the company’s aiming to cut out the cable TV middle man, and serve up network TV to as many as 65 million users via iTunes.
The news has surfaced over at AllThingsD. According to the site’s sources, Apple’s been courting the TV networks directly, mentioning a $30 iTunes TV subscription service. As if that weren’t intriguing enough, Apple’s aiming to have the service live next year some time, which is seriously soon.
This does tally with long-standing rumors we’ve heard about Apple’s subscription plans for iTunes–though these are usually connected to music tracks–as well as numerous rumors about Apple’s televisual intentions. It also parallels the current trend towards television over the Internet, via services like Hulu (or ISPs, like Portugal’s Meo and Zon suppliers). In fact, it’s the logical extension of moves Apple’s been making with the Apple TV hardware and iTunes.
But there’s going to be one big roadblock in Apple’s way: The cable companies. They’re fiercely defending their current role as the channel for delivering TV to your home, because there’re billions of dollars of revenue involved. Looking at the vile way Time Warner Cable is maneuvering to squeeze out a local ISP in North Carolina to protect its income, factoring in the complications of advertising revenues, and rumors that Apple’s not signed up any particular network yet, this might look like an impossible task.
Or is it? Apple’s turned the music business inside out and upside down and currently enjoys the position of number one music retailer in the U.S.–an odd situation for a computer company, if you think about it. And Apple’s choice to use iTunes as the vehicle for the TV content is likely to be very important–it means the videos aren’t tied to a particular product, and could be delivered by any Mac, by Apple TV and possibly even through the iPhone. If Apple’s tablet surfaces next year, then it might actually turn into the ultimate device for TV-watching around the home–and maybe even while roaming over a wireless network. There’re also some cold, hard statistics that tend to support Apple: It has 65 million iTunes users. Whereas Hulu, arguably the most successful existing Internet TV system, has 40 million, and Netflix has about 11 million. Comcast has 24 million users.
All of these facts will be a significant draw for the networks, and if just one of them signed up with Apple, the rest could follow suit. As noted at AllThingsD, that first one could well be Disney–it’s got close ties with Apple, it’s bought in to Apple’s iPhone plans, and it has sold programs via iTunes already.