updated 01:12 am EDT, Wed September 25, 2013
CEO Mike Fries rubbed shoulders with Cook, Cue at Sun Valley confab
The CEO of one of the world's largest cable companies has told analysts at an investment conference in New York that he doesn't believe Apple is going to produce an actual HDTV as has been speculated for years -- debunking predictions from proponents such as Brian White of Cantor Fitzgerald and champion of the cause Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray. If anyone would know Apple's actual plans, Liberty Global chief Mike Fries would be strong candidate, as he and other TV execs met with Apple CEO Tim Cook among others at a recent conference.
Fries, along with an assortment of big names in the television industry, held networking meetings and sessions with tech executives from a broad range of tech industry leaders, including Cook and Apple's "dealmaker general," SVP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue. The Sun Valley conference gave Apple officers an opportunity to conduct negotiations and make deals away from the glare of the media spotlight.
Fries told analysts that Apple is talking to US cable providers more about pay-TV services, specifically with an eye to revamping the interface to better let users manage, discover and buy content, presumably through the company's Apple TV set-top box, which is increasingly replacing conventional television and cable offerings with its mix of Internet-based and specialty TV channels, combined with special events such as this month's iTunes Festival in London -- which every current iOS device, including Apple TV, can see for free.
Apple's efforts, like Google's and other competitors, have mostly been focused integrating more Internet content and services into televisions. With companies like Roku and Apple, the augmenting set-top box has been its main offering. For Google, it has found some success in integrating various Google services into "smart" TVs that can also incorporate other services like Netflix and Vimeo as easily as they can host YouTube, simple web browsing and shopping, or typical digital cable television channels.
An example of the type of negotiations Fries may be referring to comes from reports that Apple has been talking to Time Warner Cable to give its subscribers access to its cable channels directly through Apple TV, replacing the "cable box" and opening up the possibility of a-la-carte cable plans -- where users pay only for channels or other content offerings they want, no longer subsidizing other channels they don't watch. Such a move in and of itself would be highly disruptive to TV content producers, but may also increase both interest and profits among cable providers.
Apple has already struck deals with Walt Disney Company's ESPN and Time Warner's HBO to allow current subscribers cross-device access to the networks' content, across most current iOS devices and Apple TV. Other rumors have speculated that Apple may be planning to revamp the diminutive set-top box to accommodate considerable future expansion.
The iPhone maker may be offering providers and content developers alike a proposal similar to the model adopted by the BBC in making its content available to a global audience: the service, which formerly relied solely on broadcast sales and local licenses in the UK to support its costs, created a "Global iPlayer" app that offers a flat $80 per year subscription for almost all BBC and associated content that is able to viewed on demand on computers and mobile devices alike.