2012.06 | Apple iTV

Last week in Canada we had some local news on the mysterious Apple iTV.  An article in the Globe and Mail indicated that Bell and Rogers – Canada’s two largest wireless and telecommunications carriers – are in talks to be partners with Apple on the launch of the hotly anticipated Apple iTV device.

While I understand the rabid interest in all things Apple, I have to question the real potential of this future solution.  I unsubscribed from cable TV over 3 years ago.   I have an AppleTV and I love it to death.

Instead of spending $100 per month for programming I don’t want to see in various packages that don’t appeal, I can pick and choose show by show what I want and just buy it on a pay per use basis.  There are way more shows than I could ever buy.  I can watch all NHL highlights for free the day after the games on demand.  I can rent movies from home – no late fees, no out of stock, no calling home to see if my family wants that film.  I use the costs saved on cable for faster internet access and large download ability.  It’s a great deal at $100 and it exists today and works with my plain old LCD TV.

I have some doubts around iTV seeing the light of day as it is currently described in the media.  There are some serious questions around it:

  • Apple has maintained that AppleTV is still a ‘hobby’.  While they have sold millions of units, it remains a niche product in many ways.  I’ve had to physically show people how it works before they go and buy one.  People don’t seem to get it.  They are confused by where the content comes from and how.  My less technical friends get a pained look on their face when I explain how it works.   We need a paradigm shift to move your average consumer to something new like this.
  • The solution offered here is a 42″ maximum screen.  Not exactly going to win the spec war there as screen sizes are only growing.
  • Making a TV a giant iPad?  Not the same thing.  Remember Nick Bilton’s theory of varying interfaces for mobile, internet and TV being 1′, 2′ and 10′.  Different needs, different interfaces.
  • The rumour is that they will use a Siri like interface to control the iTV.  I really can’t picture that happening.   Siri doesn’t really blow my mind as it exists on iPhone.  It doesn’t work for all functions in Canada, so why should we expect it to be different here?  Ever try dictating on Dragon Dictation?  It works, but it’s different than selecting buttons.  Going through menus by speaking out loud like an automated voice driven IVR?  No thanks. Significant culture shift to make this take off.
  • Youtube like video feature?  Youtube is on AppleTV already to watch videos, and adding my own videos to Youtube is one button click on an iDevice.  What’s the win?
  • Why do they need local Canadian TV providers to support it?  Live programming?  Perhaps, but do they need a TV to do that?  No.  A device similar to the AppleTV could do that given the right web interface.
  • What is in this for the local Canadian TV providers?  Winning back the dissenters of cable like me?  Hardly a winning proposition, and not significant revenue winner.  It may in fact move people from cable and reduce their revenue and perceived value.

In today’s market, a winning device needs content and  I don’t see Apple getting that here beyond what they already have.   AppleTV already does this.  If they are looking to sell a better cable box or TV, they could do that, but I think that would dilute the value of their brand, and their history of late indicates they would try to do more.  I’ve been wrong before, however, so we will have to wait and see what they do.

What has this got to do with retail?  The AppleTV already has won 100% of my video rental dollar, and the dollars of all of those who see it at my house.  I don’t rent older movies anymore for any price because I can watch them on Netflix.   I’ve started subscribing to TV shows on it as well.

Canada has almost no DVD rental left in my area.  Blockbuster is gone.  Rogers is moving away from DVD rentals.  The mom and pops are rare.  I’m sure retailers are selling lots of $5 DVDs these days for those of us without the fancy toys and high speed internet.

The AppleTV is just one example of how consumer needs and desires are changing.  Wise entertainment retailers will watch for situations like this and think hard about how to make take advantage of these channels.  Others will be left by the wayside.

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