Intel just sold its unreleased television service to Verizon. TiVo just shuttered its hardware business. Google TV flopped. Boxee sold out. Aereo keeps getting sued. Roku keeps trying new things. Netflix keeps spending wildly. Amazon more wildly still. And where on Earth is that Apple television?
Where’s the future of television we’ve been promised every year for the past decade? It always seems to be coming “next year”. And I have a hunch that 2014 may be no different.
Here’s the thing: there isn’t actually a technology problem in this space. That is, while the current solutions offered by the cable providers mainly suck, they suck because they can suck. Big Cable is holding all the cards. And they know it.
We live in a world of very advanced user interfaces. Our computers, our tablets, our phones — hell, even our thermostats. The television is just a big screen, nothing more. Any number of companies could make a good UI for such a screen. Services like TiVo did over a decade ago.
The reason why none of these things end up working out is simply because they don’t play ball with either Big Cable or the content producers — or, ideally, both. They keep trying to solve a technology problem that anyone could solve. The issue is with getting the right content.
When we hear about these new takes on television failing time and time again, this is always the reason. And I’m most shocked that these companies don’t seem to understand this. I suspect that many of them do, but they simply get fed up with lengthy negotiations and proceed to “go it alone” in an attempt to “show them”. And then they fail.
I would bet this is why we have yet to see Apple fully enter the arena. Sure, there is the “hobby”, the Apple TV. But everyone knows they have much grander plans. No less than Steve Jobs said so himself in his last days.
That was two years ago. I highly doubt Apple still has a technical problem here. They have a content problem. And they now unfortunately lack the world’s greatest negotiator when it comes to content problems. Hence, stalemate.
And so the world waits. We watch Netflix post great numbers time and time again. We watch HBO and ESPN experiment outside the box (quite literally). We wait for others to do the same. It’s happening, but slowly.
At some point in the near future, we will hit the inflection point. Enough brave content producers will forsake the traditional distribution means and Big Cable’s castle will show itself to be a house of cards. And then the notion of cable will seem absurd.
But it will take time. And it will take a hell of a lot more than a nice interface. Until then, the negotiations continue. And the failures continue.