There's an old line of commercials for the German chemical company BASF that goes something like this: "We don't make the thing, we make it better." That's not quite what Apple does in its place in the world, but it's close enough for our purposes for the next 500 words or so.
Despite its consistent rhetoric, Apple didn't invent the smartphone. It made a better one. It didn't invent the smartwatch — it just made the only one anyone wants to actually buy. It didn't invent the video store — it was just the first to make it seamless in the digital age.
A proper lineup of live TV channels would make perfect sense — and give some direction to — the Apple TV app.
And with Apple TV+, Apple surely has not invented scripted video. And I'll go so far to say that Apple TV+ has had exactly the launch I expected it to have — with a a mixed-bag of shows that prove you can't necessarily just throw money at a problem and have an exceptional cadre of television emerge. Everything's watchable, sure. But it's not necessarily memorable.
So has Apple TV+ made TV better? Perhaps not yet. But that doesn't mean it can't, and that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other ways for Apple to improve on its overall experience.
And that brings us to an intersection of news. The same week that Apple TV+ launched, Sony announced it would shut down its PlayStation Vue live TV service — we call 'em MVPD in this biz, for multi-channel video programing distributor — citing the costs of licensing all that live video.
PS Vue will die as one of the smaller live TV services, and its customers will find solace in a competitor. And that raises a pretty good question: Why doesn't Apple fire up its own MPVD?
The toughest part of being a "cordcutter" is the onboarding process. How do you get someone to sign up for your service, then sign in to your service, and then ultimately watch your service? It's multiple steps on varying platforms.
But onboarding is Apple's bread and butter. We saw how easy it was to start up a free one-year trial of Apple TV+ if you'd just bought a new iPhone or iPad — literally just a click or two. It's got the infrastructure and payment system already in place. It's already got the Apple TV app (not to be confused with the Apple TV hardware) — and it's already preinstalled on every current Apple device.
Google, for its part, sort of already does this with YouTube TV. But not in the same way, or to the same extent, as Apple could do. And in fact Apple's already halfway to being a MVPD. Its "Apple TV" app (as oppopsed to Apple TV the hardware, and Apple TV+ the service) already ingests live content from whatever service you might be subscribed to. (Flip over to the Sports section and you'll see what I'm talking about.) But it's confusing at best and lacks the sort of on-screen guide you'd expect from a live TV service.
That's all fixable, though. And that's why offering live TV makes perfect sense for Apple. It already has a built-in audience for the Apple TV app. It already has so many folks locked in to a free year of Apple TV+. And never mind that the initial shows on Apple TV+ aren't all that all that great. It'll undoubtedly make some gems at some point.
But that'll take time. Now — or in early 2020 — might be the perfect time for Apple to fire up its own MVPD. It's got the baked-in audience. It's got that push to services for revenue instead of (or at least in addition to) hardware. And even though the hardware doesn't have anywhere near the numbers as its cheaper competitors in Roku and Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV (again, the hardware) is indisputably one of the best boxes you can get to stream video.
Apple has the user experience. It has the customers. And now it has on-demand content.
It's time to get into the live game.
It's not TV, it's Apple TV. Plus.
Apple TV+ is a stable of exclusive shows done for, approved by and distrbuted with Apple. It's available on most of the major platforms for the price of an (expensive) cup of coffee per month.
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