Why Apple Still Shouldn’t Make Televisions

by Steve Wildstrom   |   August 28th, 2011

Ryan Block at gdgt has dusted off a six-month-old post to respond to the latest rumors about Apple getting into the business of making TV sets. His arguments about why this won’t happen as as good and succinct as ever.

Old TV with Apple  logoApple very badly wants to get deeper into the TV business, that is, the business of supplying TV content. But it is finding it a very difficult slog. The content business is tightly controlled by an interlocked web of production studios, networks, and cable distributors. Unlike the music industry when Apple attacked, they have a business model that is suffering only minor damage from the assault of internet technology and that still generates profit by the boatload. They don’t need, or want, partnership with Apple. And as the experience of Google TV has shown, the content owners and distributors are ready and able to bar devices they don’t like from accessing their programming via the web.

For Apple’s part, until it can find a way to become a prime delivery channel for content, it is unlikely to go beyond the “hobby” of Apple TV. While I can’t see Apple ever getting into the no-margin TV display business, I have no doubt that it could build a set-top box vastly better than the lame Motorola and Cisco products offered by the cable companies and vastly better than TiVo or Google. The problem is that access to the content runs through the cable companies, and I cannot imagine Apple trying to build such a product based on the kludgy CableCARD or its vaporous successor, tru2way. Apple won’t do it until it can do it right, and that will require the cooperation of a very reluctant entertainment industry. It may happen–Apple, for one thing, has a whole lot of money to throw around– but it won’t be easy.

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.