Television is an application platform, and all of the cable and satellite companies, all of the TV networks, movie studios and cable channels are just apps. That’s what Steve Jobs “cracked” about TV, claims Jeremy Allaire, founder, Chairman and CEO of Brightcove.
First, a disclaimer. As brilliant as I think Allaire’s analysis is, it is also self-serving. Brightcove is “a leading global provider of cloud content services, [that] provides a family of products used to publish and distribute the world’s professional digital media,” according to the company. Their products include “Brightcove Video Cloud, the market-leading online video platform, and Brightcove App Cloud, the pioneering content app platform.” In other words, for all of the content providers for Apple’s TV products who would become “just apps,” Brightcove is positioned to provide an HTML5 app platform and cloud hosting services for all those apps they will need to build, host and maintain. Sweet.
But just as Allaire maintains that Apple is able to see, “that TV monitors are just… high-quality audio/video rendering devices—and that the real power lies in application platforms and user interaction devices that can be easily brought to bear on those monitors,” his own perspective as an app provider allows him to reconceptualize TV, as well.
Here’s where Allaire makes the most important point about Apple’s strategy, “Rather that putting Apple software directly into the TV, they are bringing your existing Apple devices and applications to the TV set without requiring you to buy a new TV monitor. In short, the iPhone and iPad in your pocket or handbag is the next-generation TV set-top box, and it is both highly personal and highly social and capable of bringing hundreds of thousands and soon millions of rich interactive applications and experiences onto your TV set.”
Will Apple’s TV experience require the company to compete directly with the cable and satellite companies and set up their own subscription video product? No. It makes much more sense in the near term (and possibly forever) for Apple to “seek partnerships with the top cable companies for them to open up their APIs for their EPG, VOD libraries and Network DVR infrastructure so that Apple can offer a superior user experience on top of those services, in a carrier/operator independent manner,” just as they have already done with the mobile phone companies.
Will Apple come out with their TV set? Yes, because they can, but it is not a critical part of their strategy. “What’s critical,” Allaire says, “is that they be able to sell a massive volume of TV add-on devices to consumers who already own HD TV devices… the core focus is on extending the iOS and iTunes ecosystem onto the TV, and the fastest way to accomplish this is with a commodity add-on peripheral.”
Allaire says that the key to this “add-on peripheral”—the next generation Apple TV—is better integration with AirPlay, an existing technology that makes it easy to beam content or applications from an iOS device to a TV through an Apple TV device. Regular readers of my blog will recognize this as the same conceptual mechanism that I identified in last week’s post about how Apple’s “Home Screen” TV products will make our living rooms more social again. The essential action that I described was that multiple users will be able to push content from their iOS device on to the large communal screen. AirPlay via an Apple TV device will be able to enable these actions—with or without a branded Apple iTV. And although Siri and gesture recognition will be accessible interaction method, as I wrote back in March, the iPad will be the primary controller and become “the world’s greatest remote control.”
These content capabilities will be enabled by two aspects of AirPlay that were introduced last year that let users push any kind of application on to the big screen, not just video. The first, AirPlay Mirroring, lets you easily beam your iPad (or iPhone) screen onto your TV. The second, Dual Screen Apps, lets you push content on to the big screen and be able to simultaneously use your “second screen” to manipulate the first. These Dual Screen Apps are the key to these next generation TV apps and also, content providers and marketers both hope, the key to effective interactive advertising. And, as I discussed in my “Home Screen” post, these apps will become a more immersive gaming platform for Apple, too.
How will this next generation Apple TV add-on product be different than the current “puck”? Allaire predicts “it will… be a thin black bar, perhaps 1 inch tall and 3 inches wide, that can easily mount to the top of almost any existing HD capable TV set. Like the existing Apple TV, it will have HDMI and power jacks on the back, but it will also include a high-def camera built into its face, as well as an embedded iOS environment that provides motion sensing and speech processing.”
Quite an elegant solution, but not as elegant, of course as an actual, integrated Apple set. Allaire’s second prediction is that, “Apple will also release a TV monitor product as well with identical capabilities as the updated Apple TV add-on device, but in a design and form factor that presents the Apple brand effectively… and will sell at a premium price that ensures a reasonable gross margin for Apple.”
And lastly, the central piece in all of this will be the updates to iOS itself that will showcase “significantly enhanced and improved AirPlay functionality.” For developers, Apple “will release new iOS APIs for dealing with second screen device capabilities such as the new camera and microphone, motion detection and speech recognition,” which will encourage them to build Apple TV ready iOS apps.
Since we know that Apple will need to bring developers on board before the launch of these actual products, it is possible that, despite Tim Cook’s protestations about doubling down on secrecy, Allaire is indeed in possession of some inside information here. The timing would make sense, given that Apple is expected to demo a new version of the Apple TV operating system next week at WWDC. What rings true about Allaire’s predictions, if that’s what they are, is that there are already, in his words, “fantastic iOS Apps that take nice advantage of [AirPlay]—Netflix, MLB At Bat, CNN, MSNBC and dozens of other mainstream video sources can be browsed and selected on an iPad and beamed to the TV set.” And once the app platform is in place, many, many more will follow suit. ” He imagines that “ soon potentially tens of millions of HD capable monitors will become a screen for the hundreds of thousands of apps running on devices that are already in your hands.” That sounds like something that could be rolled out for Christmas.