Everyone is super excited because Apple may or may not be making a TV. Maybe. Lots of people are especially excited about the oft-quoted line from the Steve Jobs bio in which Steve says he has finally “cracked” the code to build a better TV. So let’s talk about that. Here’s what I think needs to be done to fix TV.
TV on my time
One of my least favorite parts of TV is having to be at a certain place during a certain period just to see something I want to see. For example, I work Friday nights when Chuck is on (and it’s the last season, too! I want to watch it when it airs, not the next day on NBC’s website!) Sometimes I want to watch two things that air at once. Sometimes I just miss something. I don’t want to wait for the network to upload it online (or anyone else) because I got home an hour late. I want to watch it on my TV when I’m ready to watch it. This is what Netflix is doing with Arrested Development and I think it could work for just about every show on TV. Imagine what would happen if NBC took this route with Community, which was recently sidelined to make room for other shows on Thursday night, and runs the risk of being cancelled due to low ratings this season. Instead of shows fighting over timeslots (Conan, Leno, I’m looking at you guys, too), they could share timeslots and no one would care. The episodes could be pushed online at the same time and people could just pick which one they wanted to watch first.
Of course, TV shows would be pushed online on a schedule, not just at random based on the whims of the studios. Shows that got new episodes on Thursday at 8:00pm would always get new episodes pushed online at the same time (unless of course it was one of those weeks where they just show reruns, in which case no new episode would come out; but really those types of weeks would have to go away, I think.)
I’m not going to lie, I stole this idea right from Zac Coffman. iAds on iOS devices are OK, but personally, I don’t think iAds were designed for iOS to start with. Just like iOS was designed initially for a tablet before being transposed to a phone when the tablet was shelved, I think iAds were intended for an entirely different device and brought to iOS when Apple realized that the device was going to be delayed longer than they anticipated. iAds would appear along the bottom of the show you’re watching and commercial breaks would be done away with, leaving more time for the actual show. Nowadays, when you watch a one-hour show, you’re getting forty-two minutes (give or take) of actual content, and the rest is commercials. A thirty-minute show, such as The Office, is actually only about twenty minutes of content and ten minutes of advertising. With iAds, the entire hour (or whatever length the show happened to be) could be dedicated to content, and iAds would appear every few minutes at the bottom of the screen. The iAds could be interacted with and wouldn’t interrupt your show, just pause it where it was and pick up where you left off when you get done with the ad (another advantage of on-demand content).
Pay-per-show, not network
This goes hand-in-hand with on-demand content. Instead of paying to get a certain cable network just to see the shows you like, why not pay for a subscription to a single show? iTunes already has this (in a way), but rather than the content hitting the store immediately, it comes out after airing on TV. iTunes also doesn’t currently have every TV show on the air. For example, there’s no way I’m getting cable just to get AMC so I can watch The Walking Dead. I’d much rather pay a single price to subscribe for a single season. There isn’t much else on AMC I care about, so there is no reason for me to get the network.
On-demand content means having my content whenever I want (“demand”) it. That means if I’m on the other side of the country and a new episode of Parks and Recreation comes out, I can watch it on my computer through an Apple TV application of some kind (presumably iTunes), or on my iPhone. This type of streaming would work well with LTE-enabled iPhones and iPads, which are also expected (read: “rumored”) later this year. All three US iPhone carriers are launching or expanding their LTE networks this year, and Apple should be taking full advantage of this technology. And of course, where would we be without some kind of playback position syncing between devices?
Tying it all together
I’m just going to take you through a day with and without these types of changes to show you how it all works together and flesh out everything above.
Without Apple TV
I get home from work at 10:00pm. A new episode of The Walking Dead came on at 9:00 and I missed it. I guess I’ll see if it’s online anywhere yet. Everything I find is probably going to be 240p anyway. I hate 240p. Actually, it doesn’t even look like anyone has it online yet. Well, I guess I’ll try again tomorrow. No, I’m busy tomorrow. I’ll look for it some other time. Hopefully I’ll remember.
The next day I have to sit at the DMV waiting to get my driver’s license renewed. I’m totally bored. Nothing of interest happens.
With Apple TV
I get home from work at 10:00pm. AMC pushed a new episode of The Walking Dead online an hour ago. I got a push notification on my iPhone about it, but decided not to start watching immediately from my phone because I was at work. I can’t wait to check it out. I start up my Apple TV and navigate to my list of subscriptions. A familiar red badge lets me know there’s a new episode of The Walking Dead available. Oh hey, looks like I forgot to watch Friday’s episode of Chuck, too. I guess I’ll watch that next. I start the latest episode of The Walking Dead, in glorious 1080p, of course. A few ads pop up every ten to fifteen minutes along the bottom of the screen, in the letterbox (the black area above and below the actual show), where they don’t affect my viewing experience. One of them is for a new restaurant that just opened nearby. Wait, according to the banner, they do delivery. I’m hungry… and wow, they’ll let me order right from the ad? Heck yes, let’s do this! I use my remote to launch the ad. I place my order, use my iTunes account to pay, then close the ad and resume the show.
After watching that (and eating some delicious food), I start Chuck, but decide to finish watching upstairs. I hit the back button on my Apple TV, turn it off, walk upstairs, open my MacBook Pro, launch the TV app, and select the episode in progress. It picks up right where it left off on the TV downstairs.
The next day I go to the DMV to get my driver’s license renewed. I have my iPhone with me, so I start checking out a few new shows that just premiered recently. There are free preview episodes for each show. I start watching the free pilot of a new NBC comedy. I like it, so I purchase the season subscription. New episodes get pushed on Sundays at 9:30pm. That’s half an hour after The Walking Dead pushes new episodes, but it’s not an issue because I can just watch it whenever I want. I start catching up on the two episodes of the new comedy that have aired since it started. I decide the show isn’t that funny, so I cancel my subscription. The price is refunded to my iTunes account and prorated based on the number of episodes I’ve already watched in relation to the number of episodes the studio has set for release this season.
The DMV worker finally calls my name.