• No Surprise, Apple's Set-Top Box Dreams Have Gone Nowhere

    Several weeks ago, after the WSJ reported that Apple was talking to cable operators about building a set-top box, I wrote in pretty absolute terms that I could not envision this coming to reality ("Apple to Make Cable Set-Top Boxes? Not. Going. To. Happen."). Given the shifting sands of the video landscape, I'm generally reluctant to argue so one-sidedly. But, as I wrote, with so many reasons for cable operators not to foolishly outsource living room innovation to Apple, I asserted that the odds of cable operators getting in bed with Apple were next to zero.

    Well, three short weeks later, this morning Bloomberg wrote that Apple's set-top box dreams have gone essentially nowhere, buffeted by a laundry list of cable operator requirements and concerns. Among them: control over the user interface, whether the boxes should be sold direct to consumers or leased by the operator, concern by operators that a superior Apple set-top could undermine their multichannel business model, and access to content among others.

    These are the same issues I explained in my earlier post and are to be fully expected for anyone familiar with the cable industry. Though the Bloomberg article mentions there being some potential progress with Time Warner Cable, it's not clear how much, what a deal would look like, and of course whether it would influence other operators (I don't think it would).

    Apple makes fabulous products, executes almost flawlessly and has unprecedented customer loyalty. All of these are tremendous assets. But they're also a huge liabilities when trying to form partnerships because prospective partners know full well they are putting themselves at risk of being usurped by Apple in the long run. If an industry is desperate enough like music was, or in search of game-changing products/revenues as wireless carriers were, Apple has huge business opportunities.

    For now at least, the cable industry is in neither one of these situations. As long as that remains the case, Apple's ability to penetrate will be severely constrained.