Opinion: Why TV fears the Apple iBroadcast 'revolution'

By Jonny Evans

"Our program is cultural revolution through a total assault on culture, which makes use of every tool, every energy and every media we can get our collective hands on." -- John Sinclair

Change. Change hurts. This is a truism. Perhaps that's why the older you become the more change-resistant you also become; even while the pace of change in your world accelerates. The same is true for any mature industry. And the television industry faces big, big change, and big, big fear. Apple [AAPL] is coming, and TV is running scared.

TV eyes

This week we learn of Apple's patented plans for a sophisticated television remote control -- the kind of remote many of us have been dreaming of, you know, one which consists of something more alluring than a giant "off" button. These plans follow-up the Apple TV release of earlier this month and come as the industry continues to mutter its expectation of an iTunes-happy HDTV coming later this year.

(No doubt sporting something almost as good as a Retina Display -- because image resolution will be this gadget's biggest USP -- why else did Apple refer to the resolution of existing televisions so extensively during its recent iPad/Apple TV presentation?)

Broadcasters are terrified.

They don't want to see control cede from a global cabal of disparate groups into the hands of a handful of firms based in Silicon Valley: Apple, Google and others.

They want to fight back. But don't really know how. Stuck in the secure embrace of what they see as the status quo, they have difficulty letting go and allowing the power of change to inspire their next move.

They can't understand that, to paraphrase George Harrison, "When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find, peace of mind is waiting there."


Turn on, tune in, drop out

Don't be deluded. Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, didn't just drop LSD in the Ashram: he also assimilated the Sixties counter-culture deep within his Whole Earth Catalog-reading soul. That's the same soul which then found its own way to express ideas drawn from within the counter-culture within a series of world-changing, consumer-empowering products and technologies.

The idea of carrying 5,000 tracks in your pocket was an articulation of these; as was the notion of iPhoto becoming a digital shoebox for your life memory.

This is a battle between visions. As part of which it's important to accept that there's few, if any, major corporations constitutionally capable of getting a firmer grip by letting go. That's a process that simply isn't in the DNA of most large organizations, with the possible exception of those employing a more cellular organizational structure, such as Apple.

Apple is a company built to identify and articulate personal empowerment within product design. And while the price for this seems too much for many, who complain of becoming locked inside the Apple-verse as part of the deal, you have to look pretty hard to find any other firm offering such disruptive vision inside devices costing under $500.

Square pegs, round holes

Art reflects life and the art of business structure is the same.

The trend toward mobile working suggests a dissolution of large groups in favor of small productive teams.

It's interesting to note that Dr Timothy Leary, writing about the Internet in his book, "Design for Dying" predicted the future of broadcasting would be seen in the evolution of: "Small, mobile, news-gathering units." Driven by technological change, this creative instability is fighting for its space in this world today, right before your eyes.

So much change.

In the UK, broadcast industry professionals anticipate that the cash earned from online video services will quadruple by 2020. Their fear? A Red Bee Media survey reveals 64 percent of UK TV industry pros regard the influence of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook as the "most important challenge" they face.

[ABOVE: Speaking of definitive television moments, coverage of the first Moon landings drove many to purchase a television for the first time.]

The transmogrification of television

Broadcasters understand that broadcasting is moving away from the existing models and becoming dependent on broadband and the Internet.

This drives content producers and device manufacturers into uneasy alliances. This also means in future you'll see firms traditionally regarded as device manufacturers begin to make huge bids for the right to distribute premium content exclusively via their services.

57 percent of broadcasting pros think Apple, Google or even Samsung will challenge Sky by bidding for live broadcasting rights to Premiership football games. A significant transmutation of existing broadcast industry practice.

"Technology and Internet businesses are fast becoming significant players," said Red Bee Media chief executive Bill Patrizio. "The question we need to ask ourselves is whether the innovations brought by these new entrants are going to sustain or disrupt our industry in the years to come.

"...If the last ten years have seen the convergence of broadcasting with broadband, it's likely that the remainder of the coming decade will see a collision and competition between business models driven by consumer demand and expectation and changing patterns of media consumption."

These concerns are what have bedeviled Apple's attempts to secure broadcast licenses for future streamed TV series from the industry. The industry knows the company can instantly switch on c. 200 million iOS device users to using its new iTunes-driven TV broadcast replacement.

When you consider the UK population is c.62 million, it's pretty clear the Apple threat to television is a country-sized deal. Content producers need to protect their advertising revenues and ensure they earn enough cash to keep producing shows for discerning television audiences. I'm sure others agree that wall-to-wall police chase shows don't constitute the best TV programming we can imagine.

"Media companies will have to fight hard and innovate in a fast changing, technologically driven landscape if they are to make the most of this flourishing market," explains Patrizio.

Temptation for all

Apple meanwhile is working to transform your iPhone, iPad or other iOS device into a remote control for your existing television. Take a photo of your existing remote control, this is sent to the iCloud and compared to a database of remote control types and an iOS-friendly version of the remote, programmed with all the controls, is made available to you.

Why would Apple make it easier to control the television you already own when it is speculated it intends introducing its own TV set? That's easy: it's not about being the firm that makes the box in the corner -- though that will be the best TV available -- it's about becoming the firm that's synonymous with a consumer's entertainment experience. Whether you use iTunes or iPlayer is less important than that you access your choice of service using an Apple technology at some point.

User satisfaction is at the root of this plan. The thinking's simple enough: If someone uses a television from another company, but likes the convenience of the iOS remote control app on their iOS device, then there's a huge chance they'll invest in an Apple television next time they shop for a new set.

Even if they don't do that, there's the Apple TV they can connect to their existing system in order to adopt the Apple experience. It's important to reach the customers where they are, treat them well and make them happy. Televisions are replaced every 5-10 years, so Apple needs to win hearts and minds today to gain sales tomorrow.

Meanwhile, iTunes will be inking distribution deals with content producers worldwide, and TV watchers will be migrating to IP TV services, away from existing cable and satellite services.

And the broadcasting industry will be singing REM's "Everybody Hurts" as they figure out how to ride this wave of change. Because change hurts. It isn't enough to look backward and attempt to protect elements of the past, it's necessary to look forward to envision a new future, unencumbered by traditional, business-focused or emotional baggage. To "Think Different".

It will be interesting to see what transpires.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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