Apple TV: the harbinger of a quiet TV revolution

By Adam Tinworth

After all the kerfuffle around the WWDC keynote, Apple did something quiet and unexpected last week - it sneaked out an update to its Apple TV box, with nothing more than a press release to highlight it. What was different? New channels on the home screen of the device:

  • Sky News
  • HBO Go
  • WatchESPN
  • Crunchyroll
  • Qello

Outside the US, we only get three of those: Sky News, anime service Crunchyroll and music and concerts service channel Qello.

It's not revolutionary. It's not the much-vaunted Apple TV set (that I've sworn off writing about until such a device actually appears). But it is interesting. Right now, Apple is adding apps to its device - but only with selected partners. How much further does it need to go before the "hobby" - as Apple has often described the device - becomes a full app platform? Tim Cook has said repeatedly that TV is an area of "intense interest" to them - but a handful of apps doesn't seem the likely outcome of that.

TV and movie rentals are a not-insignificant part of the iTunes business now:

As a result, my new estimate for the rate of spending on iTunes video is about $1.75 billion/yr. This is much more substantial than prior estimates mainly because movies are much more valuable. A tripling of the download rate shows up as a significant rise in the profile of video vis-à-vis the other media types.

And, if Apple does push harder into connected TVs, how might it change the video industry? Browsing Sky News via Apple TV is a profoundly different experience to watching the rolling news channel. I get an overview of the news by browsing the videos on option, but I get the bits I want instantly, rather than waiting for them to come round in rotation. Will this style of consumption eventually change the way TV news puts together news packages?

Netflix - also on the Apple TV - has been releasing its original series in one go, rather than serialising them as traditional TV does. Is this opening up a new approach to TV? It light be - the new series of comedy Arrested Development is more dense and complex than you might expect, because they assume it'll be watched in binge sessions - and probably rewatched the same way.

We're used to Apple overturning industries with one big launch - the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Maybe TV will be different. Maybe this revolution is going to be small, quiet and come in stages - and create a profoundly different TV landscape without us noticing…