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How I think an iTV might work
October 29th, 2011

Let’s assume that an Apple branded television would be called an iTV. Here’s my pitch for the iTV.

If you’re like me, you don’t care about networks, you care about your shows. We like our Apple TVs because they think the way we do. You don’t flip through channels on an Apple TV, you scroll through shows. It’s fantastic and yet the Apple TV is just a hobby. Why? Because most people aren’t like us.

Most people have a different relationship with their TV. They sit down, turn it on and flip through the channels until they find something interesting. They don’t want to figure out what they want to watch. They just want to relax. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this behaviour.

Here’s what I’m picturing. Keep in mind, it’s pure speculation.

When you turn it on an iTV, there is something playing. And just like a normal TV, you can flip through channels, or iTV networks. You subscribe to networks directly from your iTV. No packages or bundles, it would be just like buying an app. Maybe the networks appear as icons on a springboard, who knows. The network content would be streamed over the Internet but it would be similar to, if not the same as, what you’d see if you were watching them on a regular TV. Probably with interstitial ads and all. It would have Genius in it too. Instead of channel surfing, why not ask Genius what’s on that you might like?

Regarding the Daring Fireball post on App’s as channels:

Imagine watching a baseball game on a TV where ESPN is a smart app, not a dumb channel. When you’re watching a game, you could tell the TV to show you the career statistics for the current batter. You could ask the HBO app which other movies this actress has been in. Point is: it’d be better for both viewers and the networks if a TV “channel” were an interactive app rather than a mere single stream of video.

My issue there: it is reminiscent of the time before iBooks when books were sold as apps. Every book had its own way to bookmark or turn the page. They didn’t always work in landscape and so on. It’s important for networks to behave predictably, like a TV version of iBooks. In other words, I see networks as being dumb channels with smart apps built on top of them.

With an iTV, you should be able to instantly stream any show that aired within a given period. Let’s say, one week. It would be like a DVR that records everything, with a weekly self destruct. The UI should make it easy to mark your favorite shows so that you don’t have to scroll endlessly to find them. If you want to watch something that aired more than a week ago, you buy it on the iTunes Store. If it aired on an iTV network, then you can find it on the iTunes Store, no exceptions. You’d probably get the show cheaper if it aired on a network you’ve subscribe to.

The iTV would, of course, integrate with iTunes. You can’t stream the network on your iPhone or iPad, but you can stream anything that aired in the last week.

With most Apple launches, the (imaginary) iTV would likely launch with only a few networks, say, ABC, HBO, Bloomberg and Comedy Central. There’s nothing technically revolutionary about what I’ve described here but this dream device is a big ask, hinged almost entirely on content deals. Apple is historically good at this sort of thing; iTunes Match is kind of extraordinary. This rethinking of TV is harder still, but here’s hoping.