“I finally cracked it,” Apple cofounder Steve Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson. Jobs was referring to his company’s efforts at creating a new television and viewing experience, presumably one that would do for TV what the iPod did for music.
Ever since that quote was published in Isaacson’s book “Jobs,” in 2011, not long after the CEO’s death, the public has waited for Apple to make good on the promise of revolutionizing the boob tube. Four years later, and still no revolution. And Apple isn’t happy about that, according to John Skipper, ESPN’s president.
“They have been frustrated by their ability to construct something which works for them with programmers,” Skipper told The Wall Street Journal in a brief but revealing interview published Tuesday. “We continue to work with them.”
Apple’s struggles with the TV and film sectors go way back, well before Jobs’ death. When I was reporting on digital media in the late 2000s, I would fly to Hollywood twice a year to meet studio heads and TV executives. Back then, the word was that Apple had created a nifty new TV, one that came with some exciting features. One exec told me, however, that Apple’s box was too much like a giant iPad for the living room, and not dramatically superior to other web-connected TVs.
Not all my sources were this critical, but virtually all of them were skeptical of Apple’s overall plan. Apple’s managers wanted to roll out its new TV at the same time it offered shows and movies significantly reduced in price, my sources said. At the time, Apple had already convinced Disney and Fox to offer 99-cent rentals of TV shows on iTunes, but this lasted only briefly. Apple discontinued it in 2011 after failing to sell other studios on the plan.
His pitch, according to my sources, sounded too similar to the one he made to music industry, years before. The big music labels accepted Apple’s offer to break-up the CD and sell songs for 99 cents, but no way did Hollywood want to see movies commoditized in the same way. It was a nonstarter.
Fast forward to the present and Apple’s iTunes is an also-ran in web-video distribution while Netflix pulls away from the rest of the sector. Netflix, the top streaming-video subscription service, is quickly expanding around the world and on Tuesday, the company report that it had added 5.6 million streaming subscribers in the fourth quarter, higher than expected.