After years of speculation and disappointment, we’re extremely skeptical about the arrival of a TV from Apple any time in the near future, if at all. Still, folks love to dream — especially Apple fans. And the biggest dreamer of them all, Piper Jaffray analyst, Gene Munster, is cranking up his fantasy factory once again, reinvigorating the rumor mill that has caused us disappointment over and over again, one Apple event after another, since 2009. That’s right, Munster has been swearing up and down that an Apple-made television is right around the corner for more than five years, and now he’s at it again. As reported by CNET, in a note sent out to investors late Tuesday evening, Munster once again insists that Apple’s vision of the television will become a reality sometime in 2015 … or maybe 2016.
Is this man nuts, or is it possible that we’re aiming our ire at the wrong person? Perhaps it’s a little bit of both.
Munster’s long track of botched prognostications began in 2009 when he called for the Apple Television’s arrival by 2011. At the time, he cited then-COO Tim Cook’s strong backing of the Apple TV set-top box, patents covering digital video recording, and a five-year, $500 million partnership with LG to produce LCD screens as evidence Apple was preparing to make TVs. Then, in 2010, Munster said the Apple TV set-top box would not be a hit in its current form (oops), then repeated that Apple would need to produce a television if it ever wanted to break into the living room. Later, in 2011, Munster claimed that Apple was already making prototype televisions, which may have been true, I suppose, but three years does seem like an awfully long time to work on a prototype with nothing to show for it. It was in 2012 when the analyst had to start defending himself against skeptical media, but he stuck to his guns, again asserting that Apple’s TV was just a year away in 2013. And if media were skeptical in 2012, they were flat out incredulous by 2013, when Munster, at Business Insider’s Ignition: Future of Digital conference, once again asserted 2014 would be the year.
Both Steve Jobs and Tim Cook have been dangling the Apple Television carrot for several years.
Naturally, Apple should have an interest in television. The TV landscape is shifting toward a paradigm where content is delivered over the Internet — not through existing cable and satellite services — and it would behoove Apple to play a role in this transition to a new order. Apple probably knows this better than most companies, since it already has more than 20 million Apple TV set-top boxes telling them exactly how much people like to get their content delivered through services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, HBO GO, and Showtime Anytime.
But having an interest in televisions and being in a position to develop one that could be cast as a “game-changer” are two entirely different things. Apple can’t just slap a pretty interface on a TV and call it “iTV.” Apple is in the disruption business, and it stands no chance of getting in Samsung, LG, Sony, or Vizio’s way unless it manages to secure content distribution rights so that it can deliver programming directly to viewers with no third party gumming up the works and soaking up revenue. Apple has been unable to strike deals that would allow it to redefine the way we get TV content in the same way it redefined the music industry. As a result, it has resorted to entertaining an unholy union of sorts with the most disliked corporation in America, the one and only Comcast.
Meanwhile, Sony is having success reeling in content, having recently locked down a deal with Viacom that nets it 22 stations to deliver over its Internet-based TV service. With that single stroke by Sony (and more like it to follow from others like Verizon), Apple becomes dangerously close to being too far behind to enter the TV market. It doesn’t own enough TV technology to make a significantly better television, and it doesn’t have any content deals in place to deliver a significantly better TV watching experience. This cold reality makes an Apple television appearance in the next year or two doubtful. Not impossible, just highly unlikely.
Apple can afford to throw billions at television R&D, or it could simply buy what it lacks the way it did with Beats — hell, Tim Cook is probably swimming in cash like Scrooge McDuck with Dre and Iovine right now. The issue isn’t money, rather, the question is whether Apple is willing to take on the risk of entering a market it can’t absolutely dominate. The company’s history says the answer to that question is an unequivocal “no.”
Apple is in the disruption business.
It’s no small wonder that Piper Jaffray’s resident Apple expert continues to stick to his guns though, even after five years of chewing the Apple television cud, so to speak. It probably helps that the man has a good sense of humor: Before making last year’s prediction, Munster, with a completely straight face, admitted to Business Insider’s conference attendees, “It’s an understatement that I’ve been wrong about the timing of the TV … ” The fact that he couldn’t recall which year it was that he started with the the predictions made his admission even more comedic. But more importantly, Munster truly, deeply believes he’s right. Unfortunately, just because you believe in something really, really hard, doesn’t mean it will come true.
Perhaps we’re just jaded after five years of hearing Munster cry wolf and getting our hopes up. Frankly, we think it would be tremendously exciting if Apple made a television its “next big thing.” To be sure, it would be a huge vindication for Munster, but it would also be one hell of a show watching Apple go toe-toe to with Samsung in a market Samsung already has pretty well wrapped up — can you just imagine those commercials? As for my predictions: I know all too well that it’s hard not to play pundit, especially where Apple is concerned, but I’ve quickly learned that the only thing you can count on when it comes to predictions about Apple, is that your predictions will probably be wrong. Just ask Gene Munster.