Tim Cook, Executive Producer?

Much has been written in the past few weeks about Apple entering the television market beyond the “hobby” Apple TV. The rumour fires were stoked ever higher by a quote from Steve in the recent Walter Isaacson bio Steve Jobs:

I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,’ he told me. ‘It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.’ No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. ‘It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.

It seems clear that Jobs is talking mostly about technical innovation. Logical, since Apple is a hardware and consumer products company.

The Apple TV as it currently stands is successful, but not a mainstream product. Apple still calls it a “hobby”, mostly to avoid reporting sales numbers and thus swaying stock prices.

Apple has shown that it won’t enter a market until it can be disruptive. The iPod, iPhone and iPad have all either created new markets or completely terraformed existing ones. It’s obvious that Apple could create a compelling television using existing technologies and designs, but content is still the largest barrier.

Apple does not control the content. As seen through negotiations with record labels, movies studios and television networks, Apple is willing to go to extreme lengths to create content deals that are good for its users. The problem now is that most content owners are wise to Apple’s methods and the resulting loss of control. Incumbent studios and networks have a death grip on existing business models. There are also other potential disruptors like Netflix and Amazon who agressively negotiate content deals for their own streaming and subscription services.

Now, I’ll finally get to my point. Apple has a lot of money in the bank. Why not use some of this capital to create original content? As Steve Jobs himself proved, running a successful technology company isn’t that different from running a movie studio. The focus is always on the user (viewer) experience.

If Apple entered the production business, it would be disruptive. Netflix has made a deal for one original TV series, but beyond that, content is produced by incumbent studios and networks. It would also be a long game. Producing enough compelling content to be an attractive option for most would take time. Perhaps it isn’t so much a case of Apple needing to produce enough content to supplant existing distribution models, but merely enough to attract a critical mass. At a certain point, the scales would tip.

Apple has good creative street cred. There are plenty of directors and producers who would agree to work on an Apple funded project. Apple has respect for artistry built into its DNA, thanks mostly to Steve Jobs. Certainly, the spectre of the “Apple utopia” (read: censorship) looms with things like the App Store walled garden, but if Apple wanted to, it could build strong relationships with today’s top content creators. Not the studios and networks that fund productions, but the actual directors, writers and producers who make the stuff that consumers want to watch. Money talks. Money, plus freedom from restrictive distribution models talks even louder.

Every analysis of rumours around Apple and the TV market have stalled at content. Even with a Siri equipped television, Apple would have an impossibly difficult time influencing enough consumers to make it worth the effort. Attacking the problem from a content angle might be part of the strategy.