New Apple TV could get hosed by Comcast-Time Warner merger

The existing Apple TV peripheral and on-screen interface.

The existing Apple TV peripheral and on-screen interface.

If rumors are to be believed, there’s a new Apple TV coming around the bend, but a Comcast-Time Warner merger could throw a wrench in Apple’s plans.

In addition to the current slate of programming available on the existing Apple TV, the new set-top box will feature a whole bunch of new content, according to reports from Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal. But instead of acquiring licensing rights from content holders themselves, Apple is instead turning to cable companies to provide the content for the new service.

Apple is reportedly negotiating Time Warner Cable and at least one other major media company to license the five most recent episodes of current-season shows for users to watch, which is similar to what cable companies offer on-demand customers now.

The strategy is a big shift for Apple, which was previously working on an “over the top” offering that would bypass television providers, according to the reports.

Here’s the problem: Comcast and DirecTV don’t like idea, according to the Bloomberg report, which came out before news of Comcast’s planned Time Warner acquisition.

Right now, Apple TV offers streaming from a number of “channels,” including HBO Go, Netflix, and Hulu Plus, in addition to allowing users to access their iTunes libraries, and stream media to the TV using Apple’s AirPlay technology. The rumored deal would expand that offering, and make the Apple TV more appealing than offerings from some of Apple’s competitors like Google’s Chromecast dongle and Roku’s set-top boxes. Amazon is also rumored to be working on a set-top box offering.

It’s unclear how today’s merger announcement from Time Warner Cable and Comcast will affect Apple’s plans. The merger, which will almost certainly involve a contentious fight between the companies involved, federal regulators and consumer advocates, could throw a wrench in the works by distracting the nation’s two largest cable providers.

Moreover, a merged Time Warner-Comcast megacorp would almost certainly make Apple’s negotiations more difficult. While Apple would only have to negotiate with one company to secure a massive license, it wouldn’t be able to play the two companies’ offers off one another to get a better deal.

Eddy Cue, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services, reportedly wants users to be able to use the new service with only their Apple ID, though that’s proving to be a hard sell with the cable companies, who are used to requiring proprietary logins for any online streaming service. For users looking to cut the cord, an Apple-based subscription service could prove a win for everyone: people get to lose their old cable packages, Apple gets paid, and cable companies get paid. But given Big Cable’s past aversion to that arrangement, it could just be a pipe dream.