Apple TV: the harbinger of a quiet TV revolution

Apple quietly updated its Apple TV last week. Can we find some hints of its future in what was added?

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-Ă -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…