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Apple in talks with cable providers about new live-TV, set-top box

Apple TV (feature)

Mentioned on the Wall Street Journal earlier today, Apple is currently having discussions with the major providers in the cable industry in regards to streaming live television to an Apple set-top box similar to the Apple TV. While Apple hasn’t made any official deals with any cable provider yet, company officials have discussed plans for live television streaming with representatives of Time Warner. However, the Apple device may be something completely different from the current Apple TV. It could be similar to a typical cable set-top box, but would be manufactured by Apple or at least be powered by Apple’s software. The device could be sold by Apple directly to replace a cable customer’s regular set-top box or simply rented from a cable provider.

Hypothetically, Apple could significantly broaden the amount of people using a device like the Apple TV if distributed through at least one cable company. This would allow a much larger number of Apple consumers to take advantage of Airplay in order to stream content off the Web as well as use popular apps like Angry Birds within the home theater.

However, it’s unlikely that cable companies would be interested in allowing customers to access iTunes through the device and cut into the profits of premium video-on-demand from rentals of movies and television shows. It’s likely that Apple would have to agree to some form of revenue sharing for all purchases made through iTunes on a new, live TV compatible device.

This report could also be related to recent Apple patents approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week. According to Wired, Apple was granted a patent for a DVR-menu function that’s designed to record and store live television for future viewing. However, the current Apple TV does not contain a hard drive and wouldn’t be able to store recorded content. If the current Apple TV hardware is updated with DVR functions, consumers would have to add an external hard drive or Apple would have to provide cloud storage for recorded content.

AppleTV_UIHowever, the menu functions outlined in the patent documentation could easily be found in a new Apple set-top box that’s compatible with at least one major cable provider. In addition, these functions could also be found within the menu of an Apple-branded television set; a long-rumored device that could be released during 2013 according to the Wall Street Journal.

While Apple has sold approximately four million Apple TV set-top boxes during 2012 according to CEO Tim Cook, the number of units sold pales in comparison to the number of iPhones or iPads sold to consumers this year. Apple has had a difficult time attracting consumers due to stiff competition from Roku and the lineup of less expensive Roku 2 set-top boxes. Apple is also competing with Microsoft and Sony as both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 work with the major streaming video applications and both companies sell high definition movies and television shows. In addition, Apple has been slow to add all the popular streaming video services to the Apple TV device. For instance, Apple didn’t add Hulu Plus as another option for streaming content until the end of July 2012.