Is Apple Giving Up on Live TV and a Skinny Bundle Offering?
About 18 months ago, I was talking with a longtime streaming industry veteran about our shared frustration with the various set-top boxes and devices on the market, or more accurately, the platforms behind them. Because the companies behind those platforms also have a stake in the content licensing game, you can’t get all platforms on all devices. Most notably, you can only get iTunes on Apple devices, and you can only get Amazon Video on, well, virtually every device except Apple TV.
That means that if you’re an Apple user (there was a time I might have somewhat derisively said “Apple fanboy” or “Apple fangirl,” but even Apple’s biggest fans have become more muted in their praise of the company in recent years), you have to have an Apple TV to access all of your iTunes content, plus at least one other set-top box or streaming stick if you wanted to watch Amazon Prime Video content. Or you have to use AirPlay to send Amazon Prime Video content from the Amazon Video app on your iPhone or iPad to your Apple TV. (You still can’t purchase or rent content from Amazon directly from the Amazon Video app—you need to go to Amazon.com and make the purchase there, after which it will appear in the app.)
That’s a lot more hassle than most consumers want to deal with, but they won't have to for much longer. At Apple's Wordlwide Developers Conference on June 5, the company announced that the Amazon Video app will be coming to the Apple TV later this year. That's good news for consumers, and certainly good news for Amazon, whose Prime Video came into being for one purpose: to entice people to buy a membership to Amazon Prime, which includes free shipping on the vast majority of Amazon’s inventory.
Whatever its original raison d’être, the video team at Amazon has built a service that would be worth the $99/£79/€69 Amazon Prime fee even if it didn’t come with free shipping or the other Amazon Prime perks. With FX series like The Americans, outstanding originals like The Grand Tour and Transparent, and top-notch content for kids like shows from Nickelodeon and PBS Kids as well as originals like Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street, Amazon Prime Video has almost reached parity with Netflix. Plus, Amazon Prime Video offers the ability to watch content off line, with fewer restrictions than Netflix.
But what does it mean for Apple? It sounds to me like the death knell for the Apple’s skinny bundle plans, which have been rumored for years. While Amazon hasn’t announced any plans for live TV, it will dip its toes in the water with Thursday Night Football later this year. Apple TV already gives users access to Sling TV and DirecTV NOW, as well as Hulu’s just-announced live TV service. Anyone who’s used those services know that even when they’re working well (in the case of DirecTV NOW, you can’t always count on it, even 6 months after launch), they’re often frustrating for consumers and the lack of ads on some channels point out that the business challenges still remain for OTT services.
It’s hard to see why Apple would want to get into the live TV game at this point, and since Apple TV’s market share has been slipping, what better way to make the device more attractive than to open it up to one of its biggest competitors? The move especially makes sense if—and this is a big “if”—Amazon once again starts selling Apple TVs, something it stopped doing in late 2015. (It also stopped selling Google’s Chromecast, though it still sells Roku devices.) That would be a win-win for both companies.
Of course, this is all just speculation at this point. But Apple’s Tim Cook himself said that the future of TV is apps, so if Apple can’t create its own, then opening up to one of its biggest competitors is a smart move.
[This article appears in the Summer 2017 issue of Streaming Media Magazine European Edition as "Is Apple Giving Up on Live TV?" The print version and the version of the article that appeared online earlier attributed the Apple/Amazon Video news to a Recode article from May.]
Google and Sony are dark horse candidates, while Roku and TiVo don't stand a chance. And as for Plex, it had better pray that it gets acquired.
Netflix is now available on 32 percent of all connected devices in the U.S., making it the de facto rival to any other video service in the country.
What happened to Apple as an innovator? For truly innovative streaming video hardware and software, look at what Amazon is doing.