How an Apple Television Could Revolutionize TV and Replace the DVR

Ever since Steve Jobs biography mentioned that he had cracked the code when it came to creating an integrated Apple television, there has been plenty of conjecture surrounding Apple’s entry into the living room. Sure the AppleTV can be found in a good number of entertainment centers, but it’s not much different then a handful of products which offer similar functionality. It’s a great accessory, but it’s more of jack of all trades, master of none. How does Apple go from middling conglomeration of functionality to a truly revolutionary Apple television product.

Apple iTV

I’m not sure about you, but next to my Mac, you’d have to fight me if you wanted to take away my TiVo. My wife and I have an unhealthy obsession with television, meaning we had to opt for the Premiere XL , two of them to be exact at $299 per unit. If you opt for the $499 Premiere Elite, you can record up to 300 hours of HD programming and the 4 tuners allows you to record 4 programs at one time. Most any DVR will find your favorite shows and record them to the local hard drive. TiVo does a better job than most ,but your cable issued DVR will essentially do much of the same, plus offer access to OnDemand programming.

TiVo Premiere

Despite having multiple, networked TiVo boxes, it’s still a chore to manage something as simple as television. Add a few layers of difficulty when using Scientific Atlanta or Motorola branded boxes. TiVo’s Season Pass Manager allows you to search the guide and within a matter of seconds you are able to set a Season Pass.

TiVo Season Pass

What happens when your shows all happen to air on the same night? If you’ve taken the time to set your priority list in Season Pass Manager, TiVo will record the show which is higher in the list. Last Sunday night, there happened to be a special episode of Storage Wars and at the same time my wife scheduled Showtime’s House of Lies, which had been replaying an older episode. When I sat down to watch the second episode of Amazing Race, it was nowhere to be found. Ok, user error on my part or my wife for not setting up the option to ‘record only new shows’.

Content providers also muddle the process of making sure my shows are recorded correctly. CBS has a terrible habit of starting their Sunday night programs late as a result of sports programming that goes late. To my surprise, I found they do this for golf and last week’s scheduled recording netted me the first 15 minutes of Amazing Race and the last 45 of 60 Minutes. Your DVR cannot account for poor judgement and rapid scheduling changes from your provider.

The Amazing Race

Two weeks and both times I was unable to record my programs. Over $600 in TiVo’s, a $150 monthly cable bill and yet the only option available to me was download them from either AppleTV or from Amazon. Amazon was $1.99, AppleTV offered it for $2.99. Expenses aside, managing TV has become work. I have friends who set up spreadsheets before the fall TV season. There has to be a better way.

I recently purchased the full season of American Horror Story on Apple TV for $29.99. Once purchased, you can watch it on any of your devices. iPad. iPhone. Apple TV. Computer. The process isn’t always as smooth as Apple promises, with the occasional “Could Not Connect To iTunes Error”. All in all, I was able to watch the shows at my convenience. We watched some on the iPad 2 and others on our HDTV using the Apple TV. Zero commercials. No loading a DVD or Blu-Ray. AppleTV also shows all of my programs at the top, making it easy enough to access. This is a far better experience then the DVR. No setting season passes, avoiding conflicts, dealing with last minute scheduling changes or worrying that there might not be enough hard drive space to store my programming. As much love as I have for my TiVo, it’s incredibly flawed, but they’ve played within the confines of the current way we receive television.

Theoretically, I can migrate to AppleTV if I wanted spend a fortune on Apple’s equivalent of season passes in iTunes. A fortune being $28.99 for Amazing Race and that’s just the beginning. Battle of the Exes: $28.99, Top Chef $29.99, Survivor: $2.99 per episode. That’s almost $100 and I haven’t added the Housewives of Atlanta, O.C., Beverly Hills, New York and of course New Jersey.

John Gruber theorizes that an Apple Television will utilize an Apps as Channels. In many ways, this currently exists and works well provided you have a subscription with a cable provider. HBO GO provides access to older episodes and all their acclaimed series. It works on the iPad, iPhone or you can watch from your computer. While HBO seems happy to provide customers with access to all of their programming on a mobile device, the same cannot be said for watching these programs on the big screen. AirPlay is disabled.The only way around this is by using an HTPC, which isn’t common. Clearly, HBO at this point doesn’t want you watching their programs on an HDTV without a cable box.

HBO Go iPad

If an Apple Television were to offer these Apps as Channels, there are a few major hurdles, the most obvious being price.

How does Apple negotiate with the likes of HBO to provide an affordable app, that’s available on your TV without a cable subscription?

There has been a history of contentious negotiations between cable companies and content providers. Most cable companies still don’t offer the NFL network, due to their reluctance to pay 70 cents per customer. Despite offering eight games exclusively on their network, the cable companies didn’t budge. Last year, Cablevision went as far as to pull HGTV and the Food Network, after not being able to reach an agreement. The cable companies play hardball with the content providers. This presents a problem for Apple and ultimately for consumers. This apps as channels idea has promise, but not if the cost ends up being similar to current iTunes pricing. At $30 per app, a bundle of A&E, Bravo, HBO and Showtime would $120. Despite being an inferior product, most cable companies offer a $99 triple-play bundle. Only one third of that number is for TV programming. Add a minimal amount of premium programming and it still ends up being more economical.

The NY Post story indicates that Apple is playing hardball with content providers. It makes perfect sense to get to the place to make this work, but would they take that leap of faith with Apple? This would likely antagonize the cable companies leading to brutal negotiations when it comes time to renegotiate contracts.

Would media entities like the NFL Network offer content direct to subscribers at prices that would allow consumers to create their own ‘Apps as Channels’ bundles of programming? At $9.99 per month, I’d sign up for a number of networks and at the same time scale back my cable programming. With major networks on board and competitive pricing, Apple Television could mark the end of the DVR. Need to watch Amazing Race? There’s an app for that channel.