Apple 2.0

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Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger: Is Apple TV toast?

February 14, 2014: 6:51 AM ET

This is Comcast's Xfinity TV on the X1 platform. Judge for yourself.

FORTUNE -- There are two theories about what happens to Apple (AAPL) if Comcast (CCV) is allowed to swallow-up Time Warner Cable (TWC) and become the world's largest provider of cable TV and home Internet service -- a deal Comcast's Brian Roberts cheerfully describes as "pro-consumer, pro-competitive, and strongly in the public interest."

Be that as it may, the news of the proposed merger, coming as it did in the midst of reports that Apple top negotiator Eddy Cue was close to hammering out a deal to stream Time Warner's content through a new version of Apple's $99 set-top box, immediately raised questions about what the merger might mean for the future of Apple TV.

As I say, there are two theories.

The first, favored among others by USA TodayTheStreet, Forbes, Mashable and Geekwire ("New Apple TV could get hosed by Comcast-Time Warner merger"), is that Apple TV may be toast.

Their assumption is that Apple was blindsided by the merger news and that Cue will now have to re-start his negotiations at a huge disadvantage: "Given that Comcast has its own set-top box, the X1," wrote Forbes' Connie Guglielmo, "[it] would likely be uninterested in ceding any part of the Internet TV market over to a competitor."

The second theory was put forward most prominently by the Wall Street Journal's Brian Fitzgerald, who asked:

"What if the next Apple TV is the new set-top box that plays ball with cable?"

Which is it?

That question may be reductive and premature. Apple TV faces competition from Roku and others, and the proposed merger still has to pass muster with U.S. regulatory agencies.

But to help try to sort things out, I've attached (above) Comcast's demo of its X1 platform, and (below) the best demo I could find of the current version Apple TV (with apologies for the long unboxing ritual).

Is there a synergy there that Eddy Cue could sell? You be the judge.

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About This Author
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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