Apple’s Ambitions for Set-Top Box Scaled Back by Cable Companies

Apple TV

Bloomberg yesterday reported that Apple is in talks with content distributors such as Time Warner Cable and projected an Apple TV launch for April. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal checked its own sources and found that the updated set-top box could be unveiled in June, but it will come at a price of scaled back company plans.

The talks with content distributors has been ongoing for a while now, and the reason behind the lengthy negotiation process is apparently their resistance to Apple’s ambitious plans for its set-top box. The Cupertino-based company approached Time Warner Cable two years ago with plans to gain rights for an ambitious Internet-based digital-video recording service through the Apple TV.

Last year, it approached media companies with a proposal to pay extra for ad-free programming.

But it couldn’t complete a deal. Programmers resisted the idea of ad-free TV, and Time Warner Cable balked at some of Apple’s early proposals, which included Apple essentially taking over the cable operator’s video-on-demand service. Comcast Corp. [ed. note: which by the way announced that it will acquire Time Warner Cable for $45.2 billion], meanwhile, has been aggressively deploying its own next-generation set-top box dubbed the X1.

Since then, Apple has back away from its ambitions — because distributors don’t want customers to skip ads — and now it is only asking for full seasons of shows and for the most recent five episodes of current-season shows. Also, it proposed to disable fast-forwarding on shows for at least three days after their air date.

Another interesting aspect of the Apple TV’s evolution is the idea of supplying cable operators with the box. Other sources say cable companies could save money if Apple is able to sell these set-top boxes to customers.

In the end, what’s certain is that an Apple TV upgrade is coming shortly, while the negotiations continue with cable companies. Now it is only a matter of time when the box will be available for customers, although it does matter if we have to wait only a couple months or until the end of the year.