Thursday, March 01, 2012

"I Want My iTV" -- But Will You Get It on March 7?

The days leading up to next Wednesday, March 7, are filled with anticipation. The marketing machine that is Apple has, once again, whipped the tech world -- and beyond -- into a frenzy about what the company has up its sleeve at its major March 7 event. Virtually everyone expects a new iPad 3.

But, rumors also continue to swirl around the possibility of Apple making a far bigger and revolutionary splash -- i.e., the company's announcement of its long-anticipated "iTV" -- an all-in-one beautiful flat screen TV (here is one such highly circulated report from 9to5Mac which is quoted by FierceOnlineVideo).

Do I believe this rumor? No. March 7 won't be the day. But, make no mistake -- the iTV is coming ... and likely later this year. I have always believed this to be the case. Apple's entry into the "real" TV market -- i.e., beyond its current Apple TV "hobby" -- is inevitable. It is Apple's next great frontier. And, just look at the pent-up demand for such a move? It is clear from all the rampant speculation that -- no matter what it is (and even with a hefty sticker price) -- iTVs would fly off the shelves. Apple wouldn't even need to market the thing -- we all do the job for them!

When the iTV does launch, as I have written previously, it will seamlessly marry the hardware (TV) with the services (programming). That means it will need to feature a deep pool of TV and motion picture content -- including live linear TV like ESPN. Will Apple be able to negotiate relevant licensing deals to make that happen in this time-frame? Maybe. But, word from the street thus far is that Apple has had its challenges in that regard with the major media companies.

Ryan Lawler of Gigaom has a different "take", which seems highly plausible. In a recent blog post -- titled "Apple's iTV and the carrier question" -- Lawler recounts recent reports from Bloomberg that Apple may get access to critical programming by partnering with the major carriers (including AT&T and Verizon). As Lawler points out, via such partnerships, Apple immediately gets access to all the content it needs to truly make the iTV a home-run consumer experience. No fuss, no muss. Sure, Apple isn't in complete control with this kind of strategy -- and Apple loves its control -- but, Apple still can control the consumer experience of accessing that content.

And, in the end, remember -- for Apple, the hardware is "the thing". Software and services -- including TV programming -- are simply the Trojan Horse to sell more high margin iTVs. Partnering with the operators also gives Apple far greater distribution and reach -- as well as potential/likely operator subsidies a la the iPhone.

And, that has worked pretty well for Apple ...