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Today's Vision of Tomorrow: Cable TV's Apple-ocalypse, BBC's Set-Top Box

Apple TV

TV is changing. We're still finishing the transition to slim HDTV sets, and now the way entertainment is being delivered to us is transforming. Cable TV may change swiftly, and even the venerable BBC has got the Internet TV bug.

Cable TV's Appleocalypse

The Wall Street Journal has added the latest spin on the Apple iTunes TV rumors, by noting that both CBS and Disney are said to be very interested in Apple's proposal for streaming subscribed TV content through iTunes.

According to the paper's sources, Apple has indeed been in talks with many different networks, and Disney and CBS are the two closest to inking a deal. The rumor makes sense on many levels, starting with the fact that Apple and Disney have had close ties for years, and Steve Jobs is still Disney's largest single shareholder. The recent purchase of streaming-content provider Lala by Apple would give the company much-needed expertise on wiring streaming content into iTunes. And from the networks point of view, Apple is a leviathan with millions of singed-up iTunes users: If it can stream TV shows (or a selection of shows from the network's archives) to these users, they may constitute a new audience. And for a reported fee of $2 to $4 per subscriber for broadcast networks, and $1 to $2 for cable ones, it's pretty easy money from the network's point of view. It may even result in extra revenue, rather than cannibalizing other revenue channels, as appropriately low access fees to Apple's service could tempt people away from piracy.

And there's Apple's fabled tablet to think about. Though this story has popped up in many places on the Web this morning, and the WSJ piece even pins a date of March on the iTablet, nobody's connected the two up. Logically, Apple's tablet would be the perfect vehicle for delivering TV shows. It's the perfect size, it's portable, it's wireless so you could stream your chosen content no matter where you are, the screen will be big enough for comfortable viewing...and so on.

The one sticking point may be U.S. cable companies, and how they react. These dinosaurs are unlikely to let their business slip out of their claws very easily, no matter how much Apple's revolutionized the music industry beforehand. (Witness the never-ending games of chicken played between cable providers and stations over carriage fees; the latest skirmish is between Time Warner Cable and Fox.) And perhaps that's where the tablet—and maybe even the iPhone—fit in: The tablet will likely sell like hotcakes, and could be the perfect disruptive tech Apple needs to shake up the TV business just as it did for music with the iPod an cell phones with the iPhone.

BBC Gets a Set-Top Box, Widgets

bbc iplayerThe BBC tends to be associated with TV history outside of the U.K., and it's a venerable old beast indeed. But that doesn't mean it's lagging behind the cutting edge, and in some cases Aunty Beeb is in fact sharpening that cutting edge itself.

The BBC has just been given the green light to bring its project Canvas into reality. If you're not up on the news, this is exciting: Canvas is an Internet-connected set-top box system that'll deliver regular TV, video on demand (like an enhanced version of the BBC's online iPlayer), and other content to the big screen in British living rooms. But since there's also an SDK, there's the possibility for widgets and apps—things like Twitter and Facebook instantly spring to mind—which really will turn the British television system into a 21st century technology leader.

More interestingly, though the BBC is leading the charge (with its public fee-funded research division) the other terrestrial channels—ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5—along with the five big ISPs in the U.K. are all bought into the plan. This has angered the country's main satellite and cable operator, BSkyB, which is obviously worried it'll soon be facing a high-tech competitor. But if Canvas works well, it'll turn the entire U.K. TV system into a model that other nations could well follow.

[Via The Wall Street Journal, PaidContent]

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