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Apple’s cord-cutting TV service: What took so long?

March 17, 2015, 5:22 PM UTC
Apple Unveils Updated iPad In San Francisco
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MARCH 07: Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple product launch event at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on March 7, 2012 in San Francisco, California. In the first product release following the death of Steve Jobs, Apple Inc. introduced the third version of the iPad and an updated Apple TV. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Photograph by Kevork Djansezian — Getty Images

Apple has been trying for nearly a decade to find a way to let you watch the programs you want without having to pay for channels and services you never use.

But they’ve been fought every inch of the way by the men in the middle: Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and every other cable company that controls the last mile — the pipes that deliver TV, Internet and phone service to the home. These local monopolies like the way they run their highly profitable businesses. Why would they ever stop?

Two things changed.

  • The FCC announced net neutrality rules last fall that sharply limit how much Internet service providers can charge for different tiers of services — including high-bandwidth streaming video.
  • Apple has been rapidly building out its own worldwide server capacity — deploying a so-called content delivery network (CDN) for delivering programming and services to end users.


Apple is now both an originator and transporter of network packets over the Internet. The balance of power has changed.

The result is new services like Apple’s exclusive $15-per-month HBO Now deal announced last week and a 25-channel Web TV deal that Apple will reportedly announce in June.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple is in talks with programmers to offer a “skinny” bundle of highly desired channels like ABC, CBS, ESPN and FX, that strips out the smaller, less popular networks included in standard cable TV packages.

Starting in September, according to the Journal, anyone with Internet access and an iOS device — iPhone, iPad or Apple TV — will finally be in a position to cut the cable TV cord for $30 to $40 a month.

Count me in.

UPDATE: Analysis from Bernstein’s Toni Sacconaghi.

We suspect that any over the top offering that Apple brings to market would not be unique over the longer term, given studios’ likely desire not to give Apple unique control and to extend their reach as broadly as possible. That said, we suspect that Apple’s potential for differentiation will be its ease of use and its integration with other over the top offerings (iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, etc.). Perhaps more importantly, Apple’s cross platform offerings and recently improved integration capability (like Handoff, which allows for seamless in session coordination between Mac, iPhone and iPad) will make multi-device television viewing continuous and seamless – moreover, we suspect that Apple could also enable cloud based DVR offerings, providing a compelling mobile DVR on demand capability.”

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at or subscribe via his RSS feed.