Apple-Comcast streaming TV service?

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AppleWell, that’s what The Wall Street Journal is reporting: Apple is in talks with Comcast about teaming up for a streaming-television service that would use an Apple set-top box and get special treatment on Comcast’s offering to ensure it bypasses congestion on the web:


“The discussions between the world’s most valuable company and the nation’s largest cable provider are still in early stages and many hurdles remain. But the deal, if sealed, would mark a new level of cooperation and integration between a technology company and a cable provider to modernize TV viewing.”

Apple’s wants to allow users to stream live and on-demand TV programming and digital video recordings stored in the “cloud,” effectively taking the place of a traditional cable set-top box.

Apple would benefit from a cable-company partner because it wants the new TV service’s traffic to be separated from public Internet traffic over the “last mile”—the portion of a cable operator’s pipes that connect to customers’ homes, the story said. That stretch of the Internet tends to get clogged when too many users in a region try to access too much bandwidth at the same time.

Apple’s goal would be to ensure users don’t see hiccups in the service or buffering that can take place while streaming Web video, making its video the same quality as Comcast’s TV transmissions to normal set-top boxes.

While devices such as Microsoft Xbox gaming console and Roku’s set-top box have made some inroads in the TV industry, none offer the kind of fully formed TV service, with the guarantee of network quality that Apple desires.

The companies share a common goal: advancing set-top box technology so that TV more closely resembles the easy-to-use apps and streaming-video services to which consumers are growing accustomed.

Under the plan Apple proposed to Comcast, Apple’s video streams would be treated as a “managed service” traveling in Internet protocol format—similar to cable video-on-demand or phone service. Those services travel on a special portion of the cable pipe that is separate from the more congested portion reserved for public Internet access.

People familiar with the matter said that while Apple would like a separate “flow” for its video traffic, it isn’t asking for its traffic to be prioritized over other Internet-based services.

Those distinctions are important because of merger conditions Comcast agreed to as part of its 2011 acquisition of NBCU. Those “net-neutrality” restrictions, which will be in place through 2018, say Comcast cannot “unreasonably discriminate” in how it transmits network traffic.

“Apple and Comcast aren’t close to an agreement, said one person familiar with the talks. Delivering the service quality Apple envisions would require Comcast to make significant investments in network equipment and other back-office technology,” according to people familiar with Comcast’s thinking.

Furthermore, Apple must acquire significant TV programming rights from media companies. Comcast would want to ensure that the price Apple has to pay to acquire rights wouldn’t cause the service to be priced higher than traditional pay-TV service.

The FCC is in the process of drafting net-neutrality rules for the broadband industry after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in January tossed out an earlier set of regulations the agency had in place. The FCC has signaled that its new rules will prevent Internet service providers from blocking or slowing down access to Web content providers that don’t pay a toll.

At the same time, though, Comcast has been investing in and deploying its own Internet-connected set-top box and guide—dubbed “X1.” To date, Comcast has limited the managed-video services it offers only to its own cable TV services.

See the full WSJ story here.

RBR-TVBR observation: Regardless of what the story mentioned about the service not slowing down bandwidth/throughput for Comcast customers, there will need to be work done to build out the added capacity needed for such a system. For many customers, pixelated screens, picture freezes and slow internet speed during certain high-demand times of the day are already common across all in-ground MVPD offerings. It’s the laws of physics, here, folks. Another problem is many homes are still wired with limited-capacity 70’s and 80’s coax cable to the TV sets. However, the best part about the possible partnership is storing and accessing the content via the cloud.


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Carl has been with RBR-TVBR since 1997 and is currently Managing Director/Senior Editor. Residing in Northern Virginia, he covers the business of broadcasting, advertising, programming, new media and engineering. He’s also done a great deal of interviews for the company and handles our ever-growing stable of bylined columnists.