TV remains an area of great interest for Tim Cook and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). The company, whose Apple TV set-top box is in 20 million homes, may be looking to open up its television platform to developers a bit more in the near future.
Global Equities Research released a note on Wednesday indicating Apple is working on an App Store for Apple TV. Trip Chowdhry interviewed several developers and all of them indicated Apple is opening up the platform, and may be updating the hardware this fall. Apple is holding an event on October 16 next week, when it's expected to unveil new iPads and new Macs.
Chowdhry may be reading too much into his interviews with developers. His note indicated that Apple is working specifically with Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Twitter (NYSE:TWTR), Disney (NYSE:DIS), and CNBC. These developers open the door for something he calls "Social TV."
Twitter on the TV?
It's up to the broadcasters themselves to integrate Twitter and Facebook into their shows. ESPN's broadcast of the NL Wild Card game did this very well with comments from Curt Schilling's Twitter account. Some shows will replay recent episodes while displaying tweets from audience members that used specific hashtags promoted during the original broadcast.
Apple may be working with Disney, CNBC, Facebook, and Twitter to bring this functionality to more shows. Disney and CNBC already have apps for Apple TV. Disney's WatchESPN app provides access to ESPN's suite of networks, while CNBC's app allows users to stream the financial news network live. Additionally, Disney and CNBC's parent company are both involved in Hulu Plus. Facebook and Twitter are currently absent from the platform.
How I imagine Twitter and Facebook integration is Apple TV could enable an app like Hulu Plus to access the Facebook and Twitter application programming interfaces, or APIs, which would allow it to display tweets or Facebook posts related to the programming their watching. Considering every tweet and Facebook post come with a timestamp, the posts could easily be programmed to pop up at exactly the right time.
The interface could work the other way around as well. Video clips or gifs from Apple TV apps could easily be posted to Facebook and Twitter through Apple TV apps pre-filled with the broadcaster's hashtags.
What this means for those involved
For Apple, integrating Facebook and Twitter into Apple TV would give a differentiating factor that it's largely missing in the set-top box market. Apple TV has outsold its closest competitor, Roku, two-to-one. The competition is getting stronger though, as more big names enter the market with their own offering.
For Disney and CNBC it gives users another reason to watch content via their apps, which ought to increase their average audience. As a result, they can increase ad prices. There's also the ability to encourage viewers to post to Twitter and Facebook via their Apple TVs, which could help increase audience size, but the jury's still out on whether more tweets cause higher ratings.
For Facebook and Twitter it encourages people to use them as a second screen (or part of their first screen). It may increase the amount of content posted to their site either through apps on Apple TV or because people want to be part of the experience -- the same reason people tweet during live TV. The content is also relatively easy to monetize because the broadcasters and Nielsen have already done most of the hard work of figuring out what demographics watch a television show.
But an App Store?
People have been clamoring for an Apple TV App Store for years now, but Apple has been content to slowly let select developers into its device. I don't see that changing without a significant product refresh, which may or may not happen next week.
Compared to more current devices like Amazon's Fire TV, the Roku 3, and Sony's upcoming PlayStation TV, Apple TV could use an upgrade in its processor and memory in order to handle game applications, which Chowdhry believes will be one of the most popular categories should Apple open the device to developers.
In the short-term it makes more sense for Apple to work with big developers on improving the user experience of Apple TV while maintaining stronger margins than its competitors.
Adam Levy owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.