With Tim Cook’s appearance at D11 last week, and WWDC just days away, feverish talk about an Apple-made TV, or something of the sort, has spiked once again.
In the wildest dreams of us video-loving geeks, this Apple TV will have all of the programming and it’ll do everything. A beautiful way to navigate and control your cable or satellite TV service. On demand over-the-top services like Hulu and Netflix. Seamless access to the bounty of the Internet. A DVR. All with a beautiful screen, inventive remote, interoperability with the iPad and iPhone. Apple reinvents the TV just like they reinvented the music business and mobile. Glory!
Apple is without doubt fully capable of making the hardware. But as smart commentators like @monkbent have pointed out, the Apple TV of our dreams is a bit like the Grand Unified Theory and the unicorn. Forces beyond Apple’s control make it unlikely that this device will come to pass.
This is not the music business or the mobile business.
So what to do? Here’s my advice to you, Apple:
Forget the past, build the future.
For your Apple TV device, do just enough with your hardware and software to make the existing cable & satellite experience a little bit better. But don’t get too caught up on the world as we know it. Don’t build anything that requires the permission of the cable & satellite guys, or the cable networks.
Instead, put most of your focus on building a video delivery system for 21st century, and devices made to work seamlessly with that delivery system. The iPad is one of those, and an important one. But you need to help people build new over-the-top video services that reach the TV, too.
So create, as Apple can, the ideal Internet video platform for the 21st century. Where all programming can be delivered over ip to multiple devices — iPads, iPhones, Macbooks and the Apple TV— via IP instead of cable.
What would such a platform look like? Here are the core principles of any platform Apple should set out to build.
1. The Internet is Distributed. Embrace that.
YouTube — with its centralized hosting of content — is an anomaly. Tensions produced by that centralized control are becoming more clear.
So let people host where they want. Video standards and fast broadband enable this. Just add some quality of service controls and services on the client to ensure a good experience with a distributed architecture. And add some special sauce for live streams (but don’t get hung up on live — it’s doesn’t need to be at the heart of our 21st century system).
This isn’t radical; you already do it on the current Apple TV. And of course you already support this on the iPad and iPhone. Just do more of it, and make it better still.
2. Build innovative tools for a beautiful & consistent experience
Traditional linear TV channels are an elaborate fiction. They appear to be live, but are (mostly) full of on-demand programming played at specific dates and times.
What’s a channel in this brave new world with these new devices? How does a it work and what’s it look like? How are they traversed, navigated, consumed?
And then give creators and publishers the tools they need to make their channels rich, fluid and fun-to-watch.
But put guardrails in place that ensure tastefulness and a consistent experience for viewers, so that watching and navigating through and among videos in a channel is simple, wonderful, better than TV.
3. Don’t outsource discovery
Learn the right lessons from the AppStore. When you (Apple) enable a platform on the Internet,you can expect millions of flowers to bloom. Don’t plan for 500 channels — plan for 5 million. Provide smart, simple, intelligent ways for people find and watch programming they know and love. And introduce them to channels they might like.
4. Allow a media ecosystem to bloom
Build beautiful, user-friendly advertising & pay systems that let creative people and media companies make a living. You’ve got a head-start with iTunes, but go further. Bundles are a powerful way to give benefits to consumers and scale to media-makers. Enable those, but think Humble Bundle, not cable bundle.
Provide tools that allow for better and more beautiful video advertising.
Oh, and don’t be too greedy. YouTube has to charge 45% rents from their partners. Advertising, after all, is their only business. You, Apple, make a LOT of money on devices. Use that to your advantage, and offer exceedingly fair terms. Remember: “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.”
5. Build an intelligent interest graph on your platform
This isn’t silly; it’s essential in a world where the supply of programming is practically infinite yet competes for our very finite free time.
In this new world we live in, sharing is distribution. When someone shares a link on Twitter, by guiding us to things that matter, by focusing our attention — that is distribution for the site or service behind that link. You’ll want a native, video-centric graph for your platfom that facilitates sharing and distribution. It’s an essential part of the new ecosystem you want to build.
Now, if Apple builds this will HBO and ESPN suddenly move to the new Apple platform? Of course not. Don’t sweat that.There are plenty of other makers of media and creators who will embrace what you’ve built.
Let this new video distribution platform evolve in parallel to the legacy cable & satellite platforms. You’ve sold 13 million Apple TV boxes already doing so much less than what I’ve described above. Build something wonderful, offer them a taste of the future, and give creative people ways to make money and I suspect you’ll see an explosion of interest.
Plus, your video platform will run not just on whatever AppleTV device you make, but should also work seamlessly on on iPads, iPhones, and Macbooks. You’ll be able to reach people anywhere throughout the day, no matter where they are.
Last, and most crucially, it’ll be a global platform. Unlike the cable and satellite operators, you’ll run a platform without geographical bounds, enormous in scale. That will be a powerful asset for you, and an incredible draw for the best creative minds and media.
Build that and you’ll have dented the universe again.