Report: Apple TV Settop Box to Offer DVR, On-Demand Shows

Apple TV?

Details of an unannounced Apple TV settop box continue to leak, with a Wall Street Journal report claiming the device will feature an Internet-based digital video recorder (DVR), access to full season, on-demand TV shows, and, of course, an icon-based user interface that threatens to suck considerably less than the interfaces offered by cable providers.

The details published by The Journal build on the newspapers earlier reports that Apple had settled on launching a more full-featured settop box rather than a full Apple TV. Apple had been rumored for years to be working on a TV, rumors that more closely resembled fact after Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography included comments from the late Apple cofounder about working on the issue.

In the last few months of his life, Mr. Jobs said that he had “finally cracked [the code]” on how to build an interface for an Internet-connected TV. Since that time, rumors have flown fast and furious out of Taiwan and China from Apple’s supply chain, and even U.S. content owners acknowledged talking to Apple about its plans.

Thursday afternoon, The Journal added details to Apple’s settop plans, reporting that Apple will be offering a DVR that stored TV shows in the cloud, which we’ll add would mostly likely be an extension of the company’s iCloud service.

Apple’s vision for how the service would work would “erase the distinction between live and on-demand content,” according to unnamed sourced briefed on Apple’s plans.

As part of that plan, the full season of a TV show would be available—most cable providers currently offer only a few episodes of current seasons. Past seasons would be available through iTunes on the device, something Apple already offers.

Apple could also offer screen real estate for social media apps, including the ability to share information or links about shows through Twitter. The Journal doesn’t mention it, but the idea of Apple including apps without offering games seems unlikely.

At this point, the biggest problem is that although Apple reportedly has all of these features planned, the company doesn’t yet have deals in place with cable companies to sell the device or content deals that might allow Apple to bypass the cable providers altogether.

This issue is extraordinarily complex—entertainment rights involving what cable and satellite providers can and can’t offer are Byzantine, and that’s only if you want to be generous. Negotiating these rights has been the biggest impediment for Apple in this space all along.

For one thing, cable providers don’t want to be obsoleted and relegated to broadband providers, which is what would happen if Apple won the right to offer a la carte shows. At the same time, studios and networks don’t want to lose their valuable advertising and syndication revenue streams.

Most importantly, everyone is scared witless at the idea of Apple having all the power in this industry like it does with music. That Apple could only gain this power if it made a very compelling experience seems to have escaped Hollywood’s collective wisdom—the point has simply been to keep Apple from having that power.

Accordingly, there’s nothing in place to allow Apple to actually offer these services, at least not yet. That means only time will tell if Apple’s new plans for a settop box come to fruition.