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Is Apple Working on the Ultimate Cable Box?

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Rumors have long circulated that Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) is working on a television set. With the promise of 2014 being a year of new product categories for Apple, many expected to received more details about the so-called iTV this year. Instead, it appears the tech giant has gone a different direction, and is revamping its Apple TV product.

Apple is reportedly in talks with Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC  ) to bring additional content to its set-top box. The strategy makes sense for both companies. Apple gets access to premium video content, while Time Warner Cable is able to differentiate itself from the competition like Verizon's (NYSE: VZ  ) FiOS. That is, unless Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) buys it out first.

Is this Apple's iPhone strategy all over again?
When Apple released the iPhone, it needed to partner with a wireless carrier in order to unlock its full potential. AT&T was the second biggest wireless carrier in the U.S., so it gave Apple a relatively large market to sell and the support of a carrier to include features like visual voice mail. (The subsidized pricing helped sell iPhones too.)

A partnership with Time Warner Cable looks like it could provide the same benefits for Apple TV. Time Warner is the second largest cable provider in the U.S., but it's struggling mightily in the face of competition from telecom companies like Verizon. Still, a partnership with the cable operator will open a market of 11 million customers for Apple and might just help Time Warner turn things around.

Moreover, Apple gains access to the content deals TWC has in place. As a result, it can turn its little over-the-top box into a full featured cable box. Perhaps Time Warner will allow Apple to control the entire television experience, which could be extremely valuable to the Cupertino company. It would provide Apple with the opportunity to integrate its iTunes and AirPlay services, as well as further integrate the television experience with the iPhone and iPad.

Competing with Verizon
Verizon is currently one of the biggest threats to Time Warner Cable. In a relatively short amount of time Verizon has gained 5.3 million customers at the expense of cable giants like Time Warner and Comcast.

The company's acquisition of Intel's OnCue technology last month makes it a stronger competitor going forward with an innovative way to deliver and consumer television programming. Not only is this what Time Warner is dealing with, Apple will have to compete against it as well. Getting out ahead of Verizon by partnering with one of the few pay-TV providers with a larger subscriber base will help.

Intel's technology is very interesting, and provides a path to true IP-based television -- delivering the signal over the Internet. This would allow Verizon to expand much faster, and pose a bigger threat to the cable giants as well as Apple in its potential partnerships. After all, Verizon probably isn't too interested in another set-top box after it paid a few hundred million dollars to acquire one.

What if Comcast buys out Time Warner Cable?
Comcast and Time Warner have reportedly come to an agreement to "merge" the two companies. The merger still needs to be reviewed by the antitrust regulators and FCC, and it needs to be approved by shareholders.

Comcast has spent heavily on R&D in developing its X1 platform in order to differentiate its product. In all likelihood, Comcast would not be as interested in partnering with Apple, as management is open to the idea of licensing its X1 technology to open another revenue stream. Apple, in fact, could be seen as a competitor to the company.

In that case, Apple may be relegated to much smaller providers. Perhaps Apple can strike deals with Charter, Cox, or AT&T among other smaller providers to make up the critical market mass it would need to launch a new product, but Apple will have to decide if it's worth the effort.

Changing channels
The television landscape is changing quickly, but Apple has an opportunity to revolutionize another industry ... if it can find the right partner. There are about 100 million pay-TV subscribers in the U.S., which represents a huge opportunity for Apple's TV product. It just needs to find the best way into those households.

This is Apple's next big thing
If you thought the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad were amazing, just wait until you see this. One hundred of Apple's top engineers are busy building one in a secret lab. And an ABI Research report predicts 485 million of them could be sold over the next decade. But you can invest in it right now... for just a fraction of the price of AAPL stock. Click here to get the full story in this eye-opening new report.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 3:24 PM, twolf2919 wrote:

    I was actually blogging about something like this a year ago ( If Apple could provide cable-tv-streaming to Apple TV customers, then the cable provider they partner with would be able to go into markets they could not go before.

    Think about it: the cable company currently providing my Internet service (Optimum which, by the way, I'm very happy with) no longer needs to be the company providing my TV programming! That's a win-win for customers (competition for the local cable company) and whatever cable company partners with Apple (a previously inaccessible new market of customers).

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 3:32 PM, samlalani wrote:

    Why doesn't Apple just buy a cable company? That way, they have access to all the cable content and they can distribute it using their infrastructure. I'm sure they have considered it but I was curious what everybody thinks would be the reason that they would not do that.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 3:50 PM, adamlevy wrote:

    @twolf2919 Kudos on your foresight

    @samlalani The short answer is because its outside of the things they do best -- hardware and software.

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Adam Levy

Adam has been writing for The Motley Fool since 2012 covering consumer goods and technology companies. He spends about as much time thinking about Facebook and Twitter's businesses as he does using their products. For some lighthearted stock commentary and occasional St. Louis Cardinal mania

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