So there’s a published report about a new wrinkle in Apple’s negotiations with TV networks. It all goes back to the key limitation with cord-cutting services up to now, which is content from your local stations. As it stands, you may need basic cable, or an antenna; Dish Network’s Sling TV promises to offer this feature eventually.
Otherwise, if you live too far from all or most of your favorite stations to get a decent signal, you’re forced to try a roof antenna. Or reconsider cable or satellite, or do without.
One thing not mentioned in the coverage, however, is the fact that some local TV stations don’t have network affiliations at all, and thus wouldn’t be part of those negotiations, assuming the story is true. So would Apple choose to deal with them directly, or just omit them from the list of available channels?
Regardless, this rumored strategy appears to indicate that Apple is thinking carefully about what to offer in a streaming TV service. It’s not just a few channels with multiple tiers, evidently. That’s what Dish Network’s Sling TV is about, and the deal for the forthcoming streaming service from Comcast is tricky. It appears you will have to go to Comcast for broadband Internet even if another provider is available in your city. Of course for most Comcast customers, there probably is no alternative, but this is the sort of scheme that’s off-putting. It doesn’t benefit the customer, and I suppose it could change. Perhaps Comcast could simply offer a small discount if you use their Internet connection.
Now all we know about the makeup of Apple’s proposed TV service comes from rumors, or alleged informed sources. Nothing has been revealed, and I wouldn’t expect any announcements until fall, if then. For now, in addition to possibly offering local stations — at least those with network affiliations — I would hope there would be some sort of cloud-based DVR capability. So you’ll be able to record shows just as you can with a TiVo or other physical DVR.
The elephant in the room, still not mentioned very often, is how such a service will impact your ISP’s bandwidth cap, assuming there is one. Cox has increased their bandwidth allocations to 2TB for higher broadband tiers. Last I checked, CenturyLink, which offers a slower but viable broadband service in the Phoenix area, limits you to 250GB, downloads only. That may be adequate until you start streaming lots of HD video content from Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, or Apple Television, or whatever it’s called. It won’t be pretty if you exceed that limit and have your connection throttled or shut down. Or you get a huge bill for the overage, which is one way relatively cheap Internet becomes not so cheap.
I know some of you readers disagree with me, but I have questions about the case for cord cutting. It makes sense to reduce the price, and also eliminate the channels you don’t want. You also have options to watch TV free of ads, although obviously not local stations or the traditional networks unless you have a DVR with fast forward capability. I’ll avoid the Dish Network Hopper set-top box, a controversial scheme that supposedly allows you to avoid the ads, at the expense of recording shows you didn’t select.
If you don’t care about appointment TV, watching a show when it’s broadcast or shortly thereafter, you could get some of this content from Netflix or Amazon Instant Video; Hulu Plus includes some ads. Or buy a season’s pass at iTunes, although the bill can add up pretty quickly if you factor an average $24.99 to $39.99 for each show (depending on the number of episodes), and you have a few dozen favorites. But at least you can watch a show whenever you want, as often as you want, free of the ads.
In light of what Comcast and Dish Network are doing with streaming services, however, I expect that the cable and satellite companies are not going to want to be left out. So you will see more offerings that cater to people who want a bare bones service. It’s possible they might even consider a la carte, although I’m not too optimistic about the possibilities.
It doesn’t make sense, though, to see these companies double down on charging you $100-150 per month for an all-you-can-eat service, complete with premium channels. But rates continue to increase, although it’s often possible to negotiate a special discount deal, for 6 months, 12 months, or 24 months, to shield you from the real bill. I’ve managed that with Dish Network and Cox largely by threatening to take my business elsewhere after the contract period expires. If more people did that, or went elsewhere, perhaps the industry would take notice and do the right thing to deliver customer-centric services that are actually affordable.
That would be one sure way to reduce cord cutting. With stagnant growth, I can’t see why it’s barely getting started. But maybe the presence of Apple Inc. in the streaming TV mix will finally push things in the right direction.
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