Apple’s Livingroom Strategy

October 14, 2005

Apple has released the first piece of their “10 foot experience” — the Apple Media Center, and Eirik Solheim is pondering what is missing

What I miss in the Apple Front Row Experience as far as I can judge from the Apple web site at this point are:
– PVR functionallity with an electronic program guide
– A system for including broadband services
(Like Microsoft Online Spotlight or Beyond Media SnapStream Spotlight)
– Extenders (I guess it’s just a question of time before Apple integrates video streaming in their Airport)
– Support for HD content

To me, this whole thing is like watching a massive storm developing… It’s moving slowly, but it’s going to be enormous.

The problem with both PVR and HD functionality is that Apple has a massive price/performance issue right now. The cheaper machines that are the good fit for the living room (the Minis) are stuck in G4-land, and the G4 doesn’t have the power to playback HD, let alone capture it. Even standard def tuners have to be external encoders.

All of that changes when the Intel based machines come out next year. For raw horsepower per buck, it’s tough to beat the Pentium family right now (which is the reason I have a Windows Media Center).

I expect that as the Intel Macs emerge, we’ll see the rest of the pieces of this strategy fall together — PVR capability with standard def and high-def capture and playback, and streaming video from a descendent of the Airport Extreme. The various HD output options will show up also.

They have to have these capabilities in order to get permanently attached to the TV, because that’s where the ongoing cash cow lives.

The real important thing (for Apple, and for positioning) is that this solution will have along with it a pay per content facility that will generate recurring revenue.

It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees — the current downloadable video model has crap resolution, and is limited to ABC/Disney content. These are both very minor and temporary issues.

The real story here is that Jobs has cracked the TV and Movie nut — he’s apparently convinced the networks and studios (ABC/Disney being both) that Apple is the company to “safely” distribute the content that they’v been so scared of letting into the digital realm – in any resolution.

Mark Cuban is seeing the glimmer — if this works out as a revenue model, it completely changes the face of broadcast television, and probably the movie industry besides. If suddenly programs like Lost and Desperate Housewives start generating meaningful download revenue, everybody will want in. More importantly, if marginal shows (in terms of broadcast viewership) start generating enough to make them profitable, then the floodgates will truly be opened.

Fast forward a year — some or all of the other networks have jumped into “iTunes Video Store” to get their share of the cash. Apple has a livingroom experience that lets you do all of your PVR and Media Center stuff, plus download television programs (in whatever resolution you have the bandwidth for).

Why do you need to download TV if you have a PVR?

Because it’s not just last night’s stuff.

It’s Seasons 1 – 3 of “24”, if you got hooked starting in Season 4.

Heck, it’s the whole “long tail” library of stuff that has come and gone — want to watch Hogan’s Heros? Was last night’s Lost REALLY the same plot as an episode of Gilligan’s Island? Let’s spend $2 and see…

Broadcast TV becomes the front-end teaser to untold thousands of hours of on-demand content that you can’t find in syndication or on DVD.

Plus everything you can get on DVD.

Oh — and it’s a safe bet that (at least at first), you’ll also need a Mac to see this stuff.

Sure there are other music services than iTMS. There are also competitors to the iPod. But who still has the vast majority of the market?

If Jobs can pull that off a second time, with video, then he ends up owning the space.

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