What is Apple up to with Its TV Plans?

Who is Henry Blodget? According to the “Business Insider” website, he is “co-founder, CEO and Editor-In Chief of Business Insider, a former top-ranked Wall Street analyst, [and] the host of Yahoo Daily  Ticker, a Yahoo Finance video show viewed by several million people a  month.  He is often a guest on CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and other networks.” Clearly, here is someone who spends much of his time learning and thinking about major companies and finance. And I wish that I could reprint one of his latest columns here in its entirety.

Instead, I strongly recommend that you click here to read “APPLE’S TV DREAM REVEALED: Embarrass Hardware Makers, Stiff Content Providers,  Destroy Cable Companies.” I’ll also point out that he gives credit to Wall Street analyst Gene  Munster and Claire Atkinson of the New York Post for their research on the topic. Blodget does not pull any punches, as you might have guess from the article’s title.

The highlights are that Apple wants to build the coolest TV ever (which is not a surprising goal), charge a lot for it (in order to maintain that incredible Apple product profit margin), and obtain top-shelf content for almost nothing that Apple will control and provide to the consumers. In short, the company wants to replicate its success with the iPod and iTunes in the music industry, except this time do it with movies and television shows.

Blodget paints a credible future in which Apple uses its installed base of iPhones and iPads to be the camel’s nose under the tent, convincing the other parties that there’s some extra money to be made by joining in on Apple’s Grand Experiment. And Apple will become indispensible and eventually “destroy the economics and power of today’s TV industry, both on the content side  and the distribution side.”

I don’t think it will happen. I don’t think it can happen. I see two problems with Blodget’s conclusions. First, the television and movie content producers have shown much more reluctance to get in bed with online distribution than the music industry was. For example, as Netflix gets bigger and more influential, some of its content contracts are not getting renewed. The producers don’t want the Netflix money, for fear that it devalues their product. (Whether they are right or wrong in this analysis is beside the point.) So Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and others are apparently preparing to become their own studios and produce original content without the help of the established providers. I don’t see how Apple can convince the content producers to accept a pennies-on-the-dollar deal for their content.

And the second point is that I can’t see a television that costs twice as much as the competition being a run-away success, no matter how cool it might be. When the iPod came out, there weren’t that many MP3 players in use, and the ones that were available were all very different. The same was the case when the first iPhone and the first iPad appeared. Trying to sell a new television today is tough enough, even without pricing yourself out of the market. This is a mature market with many large brand names and little significant product differentiation. Apple is likely to chip a tooth or two trying to take a bite out of this pie.

All the same, I recommend that you read Blodget’s article for yourself and make up your own mind. It’s too soon to say, but if he’s right about Apple’s strategy, I expect this to be a massive failure in the making.