Time Warner Cable CEO Doesn’t Know About Apple’s AirPlay

| Analysis

Apple’s AirPlay technology allows users to wirelessly stream content from their iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches to their Apple TV (and thus to their TV). Despite its potentially disruptive nature, however, Time Warner Cable’s CEO Glenn A. Britt had never heard of it until asked by a reporter during a group interview.


From Apple’s AirPlay Website

What makes this more interesting is that the question was asked while Mr. Britt was busily explaining there is no easy way to get Internet content to your TV. As a reminder, AirPlay’s raison d’être is to make it easy to get content from the Internet, or at last iOS apps, to your TV.

“I’m not sure I know what AirPlay is,” Mr. Britt said, according to The New York Times. “Today we want to be on every screen. Today it’s a little bit clunky to get programming from the Internet onto the TV — not so hard to get it on your iPad. What’s hard is the plumbing, what wires do you connect, what device do you use. So the current Apple TV, the little thing, the hockey puck, really doesn’t do anything to help enable you to get Internet material on your TV.”

The Times also noted that Mr. Britt described himself as an enthusiastic Apple customer.

There are two aspects of this little vignette that we think are interesting. The first is: what does it say about the industry when the CEO of a major cable provider is unaware of something like AirPlay? This technology could conceivably allow networks, studios, and independent video producers to offer content directly through the Internet, potentially bypassing companies like Time Warner Cable (a.k.a. RoadRunner) in the process.

For instance, The Discovery Channel, ABC and PBS all offer AirPlay-compatible apps, and there are a host of other apps that also utilize the technology. These apps represents an existential threat to cable operators, and yet a major cable tech exec who is a fan of Apple’s product didn’t know about it, even though he’s been thinking about this very issue.

When discussing this in TMO Towers, John Martellaro asked: how can you keep from having your industry disrupted by a company like Apple if you aren’t even abreast of what Apple is openly doing? It’s a great question, and the kind of thing that every tech exec should be asking him/herself.

The second interesting thing about this incident is: what does it say about Apple’s marketing and outreach when smart, powerful execs in industries related to your own products don’t know about major technology efforts like AirPlay? How can Apple expect third parties to leverage its technologies—making Apple’s ecosystem more valuable in the first place—if those third parties don’t know anything about them, or have never even heard of them?

If Glenn A. Britt doesn’t know about AirPlay, how much do John Smith, Aunt Sue, or Mom and Dad know? The answer is “Ummm…not much.”

This could be as Apple wants it. It’s possible that the company simply isn’t ready to make a big push on AirPlay. This could be related to its supposed television set product, or its long-rumored efforts to get content owners on board for subscription TV through iTunes.

Or it could be one of those things that Apple puts out there and then spends little time or attention on once its released. For other examples, see Inkwell, Ping, iTools/.Mac/MobileMe, and even iWeb or iDVD. Even Apple’s AirPlay website is sparse on content, and it’s been a long time since we’ve heard much about AirPlay’s original purpose of streaming simply audio to AirPlay-enabled speakers

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How’s a CEO to get any sleep with reporters giving him things to keep him up at night?


When Mountain Lion releases in a few weeks users will be able to stream from their computers to Apple TV and thus their televisions.

This is already possible with third party apps.

I also was already aware that most CEO’s are over paid and less knowledgable than your average computer geek.


Look at the wording.  “I?m not sure I know what AirPlay is.”  Not a direct “What?” not a careful positioning of their own non-existent competitive product.  I don’t believe for a second that he is truly unaware of this tech.  I am absolutely certain he knows what it is but doesn’t want to endorse it in any fashion.  Cable companies are already selling wireless to the TV boxes.  They simply cannot afford to acknowledge respect for any competitor, let alone one that is poised to direct money away from their pockets.  These guys my be clueless when it comes to honestly communicating with the public, but don’t believe that they are clueless when it comes to knowledge about competitors.

Paul Goodwin

Time Warner (at least to me) has never been about being anywhere near new technology. They always seem to get their system just barely good enough and squeeze every nickel for years out of their systems. I think the DVR I have is the same model I’ve had for 6-7 years. When I asked if there’s a better one, they said nope. I think they’re focused on their bottom line so hard with the bean counters over what’s in place that their future system will change only when they’re forced to by a savvy company with a great new easy to use technology .... kinda like Apple did with music and the iPod. I doubt seriously if any of that CEO’s staff ever discussed Apple’s AirPlay technology with him or thought that it was a serious threat because they think of Apple as a computer, phone and tablet supplier.

Scott B in DC

If I were a shareholder of Time Warner, I would see this and tell the company either it is time to divest this cable property or find a new CEO that understands potential threats to its business. Based on this story and ones similar to ones described by Paul Goodwin, Time Warner Cable is not a company prepared for the future.

Maybe it’s because of the Time Warner culture. Time Warner, who is a content generator, wants to control its content at the expense of its delivery system. If Time Warner has its head in the sand over the way consumers want their content delivered, then Time Warner will also go the way of the Dodo while others fill that market.

In other words, if you own Time Warner stock, it may be time to sell!


This is not the first time I’ve seen a CEO publicly display ignorance of the industry they operate in. Usually it’s because they are an ex-bean counter so they know all about finance but not much about products and services.

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