Apple TV about to start shipping; content still limited
Word on the web is that the new Apple TV is about to start shipping to the earliest pre-orderers (specifically people are saying their credit cards have been charged which implies an imminent ship date). Remember the big event on September 1st when Jobs announced 99 cent rentals of television shows from ABC and FOX? At the time Jobs predicted "other studios will see the light soon, and get on board with us."
[Update: The Apple Store now says Apple TV ships in 2-3 weeks, so perhaps we've got more time than I anticipated.]
That's not looking all that likely, at least in the near future. Yesterday Reuters quoted NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker, while speaking at a Goldman Sachs investor conference, as saying "We do not think 99 cents is the right price point for our content. ... We thought it would devalue our content." So scratch NBC's shows off the list of potential 99 cent rentals, at least for now. At the same conference News Corp (who owns FOX) president Chase Carey referred to the 99 cent rentals as a "short-term test." Of course they could decide that price the works and keep FOX's content at the magic under-a-buck price point. Or they could put an end to it. We just don't know.
What about CBS? Nothing from them one way or another about Apple TV, but Bloomberg carried a very short post saying CBS might jump on board Hulu Plus (the $10/month version of Hulu currently in testing on Apple's iDevices, Samsung's app-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players, and the Sony Playstation 3). Of course that doesn't mean they won't also be on Apple TV; again, we just don't know yet.
There's a lot of talk about "cutting the cord" these days but generally speaking the cable industry is in denial (but not Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg. See Hey Cable Guys! Cord Cutting is Real, and It’s a Problem, Says Verizon CEO at AllThingsDigital), and it's easy to see why they remain complacent when there are so many platforms and services, each of them offering a different selection of content, available. For the average consumer, it's all very confusing, and as things stand now, Apple TV isn't doing much to simplify things; limiting users to Netflix and a puny selection of 99 cent show rentals from iTunes just isn't going to mean ditching existing cable service for most people. Apple needs to open up the system and allow plugins or apps (whatever you want to call them) that enable other sources of content. Hulu Plus is already on iOS devices; what good reason is there not to offer it on Apple TV? What about Amazon Video-on-Demand? The iPad has a Kindle app, why shouldn't Apple TV have an Amazon VOD plugin? The list goes on and it seems like Apple could pretty easily turn Apple TV into an excellent cord-cutting device. It's just choosing not to; at least not yet.
Let's not forget Apple doesn't have this space to itself, either. Roku, Boxee and Google all have similar devices available now or coming soon. Heck, even game consoles offer competition with the Apple TV. I don't think Jobs & Co can afford to rely on a semi-closed system of Apple TV & iTunes, with Netflix the only additional content source. Until we know more about Apple's future plans for the Apple TV, it just doesn't seem like a smart purchase.