Last Monday, in “Apple is Still Spinning Its Wheels in Video While Big Competitors Hit Their Stride,” I explained that while Apple continues to cast around for some type of coherent strategy to be a player in the fast-evolving video landscape, big competitors like Google, Amazon, Comcast and Facebook are all racing ahead and making substantial progress.
Then last Thursday, Peter Kafka at Recode reported that after failing in its attempt to put together its own TV service, Apple’s latest plan is to create some type of TV guide that would be able to discover and show what’s available in multiple video apps (e.g. HBO, Netflix, ESPN) and work on Apple’s devices. But as Peter noted, the new guide idea would mean Apple is focusing solely on an interface that would have no actual revenue stream.
Instead, industry business models (and money flows) would still be determined by content providers, distributors and of course viewers. And it’s far from clear that content providers and distributors would provide Apple any assistance since these days all companies want to be closest to the customer and are wary of initiatives that smell like Trojan horses.
If the report is accurate, then stop and consider how mind-boggling this is: while Apple’s competitors are pursuing billions of dollars of subscriber and advertiser spending that are up for grabs, Apple is going to potentially sideline itself and settle on merely providing a guide to the content that’s available elsewhere? Where is the bold thinking and world-changing ambition that defined Apple over the past 15 years? Instead of thinking differently, Apple is thinking incredibly small.
Sure we’d all like easier navigation of the vast array of content we all have access to. But an interface that discovers content across app? TiVo, for example, has been doing this for more than 5 years. I’ve long been able to search for a program and see where it’s available - on Comcast linear, VOD, on my DVR, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. And with a couple of clicks, I can get right to the episode I want. It’s a great feature, but it’s just one part of the overall TiVo service.
With Apple’s vast resources, hundreds of millions of devices deployed and design proficiency, the company is perfectly positioned to make a big play in video. Yet, nothing big seems to be happening. In Apple’s recent earnings call Tim Cook said, “But you shouldn’t look at what’s there today and think we’ve done what we want to do. We’ve built the foundation that we can something bigger off of.”
It was another tantalizing soundbite from Apple, but without any tangible follow through, at least yet. If the “something bigger” Cook is referring to is a TV guide as Recode reported, that would be quite underwhelming. I’m an Apple fan (though not a fanboy!), and remain bewildered that the company has not figured out how to leverage all of its strengths to play a more significant role in the industry. Maybe one of these days….