After a brief delay, Apple TV is set to deploy later this month, and reporters everywhere are busy doing their homework in advance of launch day. It’s an interesting situation because some of the folks covering Apple TV have PC backgrounds rather than expertise in television technology. Given Apple’s rapid takeover of the digital music industry, it’s tempting to think that Apple TV will have the same effect on video. However, anyone with a background in cable knows the story is much more complicated.
I sat in on a press interview this afternoon with Motorola Senior Director Jeff Binder. The reporter Jeff spoke to was clearly smart, but just as clearly not well-versed in video delivery. He seemed a bit taken aback when Jeff suggested that Apple TV is a cool gadget, but not something that’s going to revolutionize television in the short or medium-term future. Here are some of the critical points that Jeff made:
- Cable TV and VOD are well-entrenched.
Video-on-Demand reaches well over 35 million households. That’s a lot of set-tops to displace with Apple TV even if people wanted to give up on the real-time television that cable provides.
- Internet devices like Apple TV are not good for high-definition content.
Most video on the web isn’t HD-quality, and it’s a good thing because the Internet isn’t built today to provide the bandwidth needed for gobs of HDTV. On the other hand, cable networks (including Verizon here) are. The more popular HD becomes, the more cable has the edge in TV delivery. (More to come on this topic when I can get a post out about Time Warner’s Bear Stearns presentation today.)
- Cable set-tops can add Internet capabilities. It’s much harder for Internet devices to integrate cable video service.
If Apple wanted to plug into the cable infrastructure, it would have to contend with the wide variety of networks different cable companies operate, and many technical challenges that are unique to the cable industry. Plugging into cable is just not the same as plugging into the Internet.
As Jeff said near the beginning of the interview, Apple TV is a neat product, but as far as the whole television experience goes, it’s just not ready for primetime.