The flood of opinions, analysis, guesses, prognostication, rumors, and insights gleaned from the reading of bird entrails always flows right up until a new Apple event–even one like tomorrow’s, which many Apple observers (including myself) believe will yield little more than a few new iPods. The latest, and hopefully last (I have to sleep sometime!) rumor before tomorrow’s event: Netflix on Apple TV, as reported by Bloomberg.
Apple and Netflix aren’t enemies, exactly. Certainly the two companies are less at odds than, say, Apple and Google, and even those two direct competitors often work together on products. Netflix and Apple are in mild conflict at best–Netflix currently (and for the forseeable future) dominates the streaming video world, while Apple may be the most popular pay-per-view service (through iTunes). But the two companies do often collaborate, as with the recent Netflix mobile apps for iPad and iPhone.
If Apple does indeed want to make Apple TV more than, as Steve Jobs has called it, a “hobby,” the company will need to expand the box’s capabilities. Netflix compatibility isn’t just a desirable feature for such a box, it’s downright essential. Any media center without Netflix is at a huge disadvantage with customers. So it’s not a wholly shocking rumor.
What it does mean is that Apple is officially giving up the ghost on a subscription video service. And for Netflix, this is just one more platform in the company’s never-ending conquest of all electronics. Apple TV may not be a barn-burning seller like some of Apple’s other products, but it sells adequately, and Netflix wants to be on any device that sells even adequately.
Interestingly, if all the Apple TV rumors are true, the new version with Netflix compatibility would clock in at a very cheap $99. Roku, not coincidentally, just underwent a price cut of around 25-30% per model. The most expensive Roku, the HD-XR (which features high-def video, wireless-N, and a mostly-useless USB port) also costs $99, a $30 cut, and the middle-range Roku HD (which cuts the wireless-N and USB port) now costs only $69.
If Apple does indeed announce a $99 Apple TV, even those price cuts may not help Roku. Though Roku’s service is actually very good (powerful, simple, attractive–it’s my favorite Netflix interface, as a matter of fact), it can’t compete with an Apple TV that also supports Netflix. Roku had better hope Apple doesn’t fulfill this rumor tomorrow.