Apple TV and cable a la carte

I received a fair amount of feedback on my Apple TV vs. TiVo column from a few weeks ago, but none on the headline. Come on, people! Doesn’t anyone remember the famous New York Post headline? Anyway, some readers have suggested that Apple TV is really more competition for cable itself than simply TiVo. For that argument, I will consider cable as coming without DVR service, since cable DVRs are unavailable without cable, and we’ve already considered Apple TV vs. TiVo, which is one of the best retail options for those who would want DVR service without cable or satellite.

TiVo’s business model was initially designed to make it an attractive partner for cable, but such is not the case with Apple TV. Apple TV dips its toe into what some regulators have been asking for in “cable a la carte” but goes even further. Whereas cable a la carte advocates would like cable providers to offer only the channels they want, iTunes sells content by the series or even the episode.

Apple claims that it now offers 70 percent of the primetime offerings of major broadcast and popular cable networks such as Bravo. Of course, cable and satellite providers offer over 1,000 hours per week of programmed entertainment, even though we’ve all heard the complaints about there being “500 channels and nothing on.” When asked in an Engadget Mobile interview about broadcasting TV to cell phones a la MediaFLO, Helio CEO Sky Dayton  responds rhetorically, “When was the last time you watched linear programming?”

Nonetheless, there’s still a lot on broadcast and cable that isn’t on iTunes, or isn’t on iTunes until the followiong season. As was the case for TiVo, if your tastes don’t wander outside iTunes’ selection (which will certainly grow), buying your content from iTunes may make sense, but for now Apple TV can’t compete with the breadth of cable or satellite television that most consumers value.

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