I admit, when Apple announced the new TV platform, the only thing that caught my attention was the ability to develop for it, and while that seems like a big enough category now, looking back, at the time I was only really envisioning games and various self-contained apps that lend well to the big screen.
But after spending a few weeks with it, I’m really starting to see what the vision is for this platform, and it’s pretty exciting. The ability to collect dynamic content in the form of an app now means that not only can we enjoy games from the same device that serves our movies (nothing new to that) but this device can now also house a system for custom content delivery that allows each individual user to have a unique experience and a unique, personalized content delivery system.
With this format comes the potential to eliminate the paradigm of television programming that you must cater to. I am envisioning a near future that will involve not only on-demand programming as the sole delivery system, but also the ability to completely customize the content you recieve. No more monolithic cable providers with four-million-channel packages that still manage to have nothing of interest to show us (I speak for myself here, and I recognize I am in the minority in that I encounter this reaction every time I attempt to watch cable television, but I know all viewers can relate to this scenario on some level, be it 2AM channel surfing, or just a bad patch of time where nothing interesting can be found in the available programming).
Instead, serial content packaged as apps or independently run channels, combined with all the previous offerings of YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, and the iTunes store, means a network of content that exists independently of any one provider, and can be customized extensively. Here we find not only reinvigorated spirit of competition, but also the ability of little Billy next door, or your cousin with her YouTube videos on the finer qualities of Scotch, to exist naturally along-side studios and stations with billion-dollar budgets.
So what must happen for this platform to succeed?
That’s not exactly an easy question to answer at this stage, though I think it is going to depend on the definition of success to all the various parties involved. For instance, a game developer will define success as high revenue and/or high conversion rates. Whereas, to a content provider, success may come in the form of the expansion of an audience and a provable viewership to secure additional ad placement and revenue. Still further, to Billy next door, or your cousin with her Scotch, success may be as simple as an extended audience for her content and new ways to become discoverable.
Already many of the major network channels and larger independent content providers have shown up with official (and unofficial, in the case of networks like TWiT, apparently) apps showcasing their offerings. And a handful of games have been ported to the platform. But apparently initial uptake has been slower than desired in the realm of individual app developers. I don’t personally believe that total revenue of app sales will be the deciding factor that makes or breaks this platform, but overall adoption and the size of the user base will obviously be a pivotal factor for all parties looking to serve some variety of content via this particular vehicle.
More than likely, beyond the early adopters like myself, the availability of content in the way of viewing material and games will be the initial features people are most interested in, since that is the paradigm we can most easily envision and relate to currently. Following that, though, will be the use cases and applications we have yet to dream up. There is no doubt that this platform has the ability to introduce new ways of thinking to the set-top box paradigm, but how that unfolds and what comes of it has a lot to do with the level of creativity displayed and Apple’s ability to get out of the way where App Store politics and bottlenecks are concerned. (Edit: Let’s hope Phil Schiller’s recent appointment as head of App Store affairs makes for a worthwhile shift in culture there)
The next six months should show pretty clearly what to expect in the near term for this platform, and the holiday season will likely result in a jump in participation, but there are a lot of possibilities here, and, like the Apple Watch, the true use and user base may take a while to develop.
That said, I, personally, am looking forward to seeing what the future holds.