Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

After meeting with Apple execs, analyst expects no television solution any time soon

August 24, 2012: 9:52 AM ET

The company's prospects for a near-term TV breakthrough appear to be bleak

FORTUNE -- It's hard to know what to make of the signals coming out of the meetings with individual analysts Apple's (AAPL) executive staff has been holding lately. SEC rules prohibit the company from sharing insider information that might have a material affect on the value of the company's stock. Yet analysts often publish notes to clients implying that Apple has done just that.

Case in point: A "company update" issued Friday by Pacific Crest's Andy Hargreaves. Among the key takeaways from his meeting Wednesday with CFO Peter Oppenheimer and Eddy Cue, senior VP for Internet services and software, was this message about the prospects of Apple making a "more significant move into TV distribution":

An Apple Television Appears Extremely Unlikely in the Near-term

Relative to the television market, Eddy Cue, Apple SVP of Internet Software and Services, reiterated the company's mantra that it will enter markets where it feels it can create great customer experiences and address key problems. The key problems in the television market are the poor quality of the user interface and the forced bundling of pay TV content, in our view. While Apple could almost certainly create a better user interface, Mr. Cue's commentary suggested that this would be an incomplete solution from Apple's perspective unless it could deliver content in a way that is different from the current multichannel pay TV model.

Unfortunately for Apple and for consumers, acquiring rights for traditional broadcast and cable network content outside of the current bundled model is virtually impossible because the content is owned by a relatively small group of companies that have little interest in alternative models for their most valuable content. The differences in regional broadcast content and the lack of scale internationally also create significant hurdles that do not seem possible to cross at this point.

Apple is certainly capable of misdirection -- of sending a "go slow" signal to analysts when behind the scenes it's quietly racing full speed ahead. But in this case the message Cue gave Hargreaves matches published reports about Apple's negotiations with cable TV companies. Both suggest that Apple's much-rumored breakthrough in television -- whatever form it takes -- is likely to come later rather than sooner.

See also: Apple and the stupid cable box.

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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