Sorry, Apple/Amazon/Google Your Current Products Can’t Win the TV Settop Box Wars

| Analysis

TV settop boxes. There are so many of them now, and they all do something slightly different. There’s one for those who love Amazon, one for those who love Apple, even a couple that aren’t boxes at all and just plug into a port on the back of your TV. It's an escalating arms race, but none of the settop boxes available now is going to score a decisive victory in this battle, because none are best for the customer.

Here’s what I want: a device that pushes high quality video (currently 1080p) to my television; a device that doesn’t care if that video came from iTunes, Amazon video, Netflix, or a hard drive on my network; a device that can deliver video from a cable company as on-demand video, something I recorded, or even a live broadcast.

Jeff Gamet has named this imaginary device the KellyCast, and so say we all.

Unicorn TVBehold the KellyCast: Unicorn of Boxes-You-Hook-to-the-TV

Why does envisioning this box cause me to cry like Iron Eyes Cody? Because it doesn’t exist now and probably never will. There’s a simple reason for this, too: what makes the KellyCast good for me is precisely what makes it terrible for everyone making these boxes now.

If I have both iTunes and Amazon stores in the same device, nobody cares about the exclusive movie release deal anymore. With the KellyCast, I just buy it when it’s out and move on. This of course terrifies companies who have some sort of unholy content alliance (I’m looking at you, Comcast/NBC). They all seem convinced that if I have any option, I will choose something besides them, and that’s not necessarily true.

Remember when iTunes was first launched? It was supposedly a terrible idea for labels to release music "online" because they couldn't compete with piracy. It turns out, however, that when it's easier for me to hand over a dollar and immediately rock that Soulsister song than to prowl the seedy underbelly of the internet for a pirated MP3, that's a no-brainer.

Those same rules apply to movies and TV shows. If it's easy and reasonably priced, I'll hand over the cash, and I don't really care who I give it to.

Right now the most popular boxes require you to choose an ecosystem, no takebacks. There’s no “good” answer, mostly just “less bad” or “close.” If I have a fair amount of purchases from Amazon, and an equal number from iTunes, there’s not a good choice for me. Amazon will happily sell me a box to see their video, if I’m willing to forsake all my iTunes content. Apple is glad to hand me a little black box that lives in a world where Amazon Video doesn’t exist.

Apple is closest right now, since the company does allow Netflix and Hulu+ and a few other non-Apple sources of content, but no Amazon Video, and my own video only works if iTunes supports the format. If the Apple branded cable box rumors are true, that’s virtually everything the KellyCast would be.

I think Apple could flat out win this with a new generation of Apple TV. In some ways, Apple has been good about understanding it isn't the only game in town. It was always possible to view a Windows file on Mac OS, sometimes even edit, because Apple knew there were other OS options out there.

I wish it would take the same approach with the Apple TV and give me a few non-Apple channels. Pair that with cable box capability and the choice would be clear.



KellyCast sounds great. Will it also work in the UK, France, Australia, China ...  - or just the USA?

Looking back, going global with music using iTunes, an iPod and an Apple id seems easy now. TV is different - everywhere.

Kelly Guimont

@Lancashire-Witch, since it’s mine, then yeah any service available internationally will work. I can’t guarantee what those will be, but yeah I’d make it as easy as possible.

Lee Dronick

Will it have “rules” so that I can filter out things such as Cox Cable ads, Flo, reality shows, and South Park. smile


That’s just my point Kelly. The number of truly international services in very limited. Off the top of my head I can only think of one - CNN.
Which means a bespoke STB solution for each country. That’s a tough nut to crack - even for Apple. Look at the rollout of iTunes Radio - US, Australia and maybe Canada.

I do like your vision - I just don’t see it happening outside the US; if at all.

John Dingler, artist

Hi Lancashire-Witch,
Well, since Kelly’s hypothetical “KelleyBox” would be the Alpha and Omega of such devices, the Holy Grail of just-in-time, on demand reception, then all of the present fragmentation in IP and in pathological, compulsive-obsessive hoarding of content and streaming would have been solved, so none of your pessimistic fears and all of your positive wishes for its perfect properties will have come true.

John Dingler, artist

Can someone explain to me why all of these currently streaming on wires programs can’t be converted to over the air reception accessible via tuner channels? What’s the problem?

John Dingler, artist

You know, I bet’cha that we don’t even need no stinkin’ set top boxes for any of that media that is currently streaming; It’s all a scam to have us buy into a different form of technology that costs more, a plan by the 1% to squeeze even more wealth from, and trickling it up to, the 99%.

John Dingler, artist

That set top box is a comprehensive NSA and National Security Police State racket to monitor us more efficiently, whereas before they could not so easily spy on the TV stations we were watching. And we give it all our information voluntarily, thus lowering their labor costs.


Perhaps in the haste of writing you left out airplay from the mac which kind of fill in the gaps where AppleTV left out.

Well if you don’t own a mac too bad.


As the playing field stands right now, the content producers have such a powerful relationship with the distributors and the major TV stations worldwide, that allowing full and unfettered international access will not be happening for a long, long time.
It’s all about rights and these rights get written into the contracts so that the content producers/distributors can extract maximum $$.


This is what I was telling John M a couple of days ago. The iMac succeeded because it made an easy way to get all the internet. The iPod succeeded because not only could you get music from the iTunes Store but you could rip any CD you owned, effectively opening it up to all the music you wanted. The proposed AppleTelevision won’t have access to all channels and movies. It will only get a small subset of content, just like the other tv boxes. I agree with Robbo, the content providers, studios, distributors, talent, producers, and of course Cable companies are and will never let go of their control. Until they none of the box’s will have an advantage over each other and for most people over cable or satellite.

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