Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) plan to revolutionize TV doesn't sound that exciting.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Apple could unveil a cable TV alternative this fall. For a monthly subscription fee of $30-$40, Apple will stream a bundle of some 25 channels over the Internet.
While it could attract a fair number of subscribers, and may enhance the appeal of Apple's set-top box, it doesn't sound all that different from Dish Network's (NASDAQ:DISH) SlingTV or Sony's (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation Vue, and may not be the revolutionary catalyst many had been hoping for.
It's shrinking, but the bundle doesn't seem to be going anywhere
Sparked by comments Steve Jobs made to his biographer, and reiterated consistently by his successor Tim Cook, Apple investors have been waiting for the company to revolutionize the living room for years.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster has stood at the forefront, forecasting Apple's imminent entry into the smart TV space for several years now. Munster has been consistently wrong with his timing (originally, he called for Apple to release a TV in 2011, then 2012, 2013, and finally 2016) but his prognostications have helped to set expectations for what could be Apple's next product category.
In 2010, he floated the idea of an "iTunes TV Pass" -- a service that would allow consumers to pick and choose channels, subscribing to them through Apple on an individual basis. The appeal of a la carte cable is obvious, and has long stood as a sort of holy grail -- Senator John McCain once introduced legislation that would've forced cable operators to unbundle -- but has yet to materialize.
If Apple could have delivered such a service, it would have fundamentally revolutionized the industry. Like the iPod with iTunes, Apple's hardware would've had a massive advantage over its living room rivals. Instead, it seems as though it will simply keep pace with an evolving landscape.
SlingTV and PlayStation Vue
Assuming that The Wall Street Journal's report is accurate, Apple's service won't differ noticeably from other upstarts in the space. Last month, Dish Network launched SlingTV, and earlier this week, Sony rolled out PlayStation Vue.
SlingTV offers a bundle of 17 channels streamed over the Internet for $20 per month. It lacks broadcast networks -- most of which Apple's service will allegedly offer -- but sports such cable network stalwarts as ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, and AMC. PlayStation Vue is a bit more expensive -- $50-$70 -- but offers more channels and more features, including the ability to access a cloud-based DVR.
Both services have issues -- PlayStation Vue lacks ESPN; SlingTV is limited to one stream at a time -- giving Apple the ability to one-up them, but both are already doing what Apple's rumored service is expected to do. Other competitors could soon emerge, too. Verizon has been working on a similar product for over a year; DirecTV has been experimenting with Internet-based bundles outside of the United States.
The revolution isn't here -- yet
I'm sure Apple's service will attract a fair number of subscribers, and it may add some additional value to its hardware, but this report is certainly disappointing for anyone who had been expecting a second "iTunes moment". Ultimately, Apple will still be selling the same content in largely the same fashion as everyone else.
Perhaps the cable bundle will be shattered some day -- but unfortunately, that day won't come this year.