Apple’s Music “Meh”: Time To (Re) Make The TV!

June 11, 2015

The following piece was published on Forbes.com on 6/10/15:

As I was watching Apple roll out its new Apple Music subscription service at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), all I could think of was donuts (and it wasn’t even National Donut Day!).

When I was growing up in New England, Dunkin’ Donuts had a ubiquitous mascot known as Fred the baker, whose constant refrain was “Time to make the donuts.” Rain or shine, day or night, that was Fred’s mantra so customers could have fresh donuts. So while Apple was proclaiming its latest attempt to remake the music business, I’m thinking that Apple could really use its own Fred, but rather than donuts, their “baker” ought to be myopically trained on making (and remaking) television.

This isn’t a “haters gonna hate” anti-Apple forum. Despite my criticisms on occasion, I’m a fan of Apple products and have been for years. But when it comes to Apple and music, I’m still hugely puzzled on why TV still appears to be such an afterthought compared to music. Do the math folks. The entire global music market was less than $15 billion in 2014, and while digital (where Apple plays) is growing, it still represents only half of that total. By comparison, global television advertising revenues are expected to grow to over $200 billion by 2019, with even the most old-fashioned television there is – broadcast – growing its advertising revenues three times as fast as the music marketplace in the next five years. And “pay TV” revenues (subscriber fees) in North America alone added another $102 billion in 2014. Playing in the TV versus the music bakery quite simply provides the potential for a lot more – wait for it – dough (pause for groans – I couldn’t resist).

As to Apple Music the product, I am rooting for it. I firmly believe that the subscription “bundle” (a naughty word for many cable TV haters) is the key to the music industry’s future. Spotify might simply be the best $10 I spend every month (Netflix is wonderful, but I can’t spend hours doing work and watching it). But what is changing the game with Apple Music? A massive on-demand music library (minus the Beatles)? Already got it with Spotify. Curated playlists? Got it. Pricing of $10 a month? Got it.

But rather than a true innovation, Apple Music feels a little like a Microsoft-Internet Explorer distribution play, with an app immediately available on your phone. Apple sold nearly 75 million phones in the last quarter of 2014 – I get that it’s a massive distribution platform. But that didn’t help Apple maps (although it was a pretty good strategy for Microsoft IE for a longtime), and I don’t see how that’s such a game-changing competitive advantage compared to other music services. Getting millennials to download a non-Apple app hardly equates with the difficulty of teaching early VCR users to get their machines to stop blinking the (incorrect) time.

As for TV, Apple introduced its Apple TV in 2007, which some industry observers have described as a “hobby project.” It has never been a massive seller in the league of the successful Apple products, and always felt like a bit of a poor stepchild. By comparison, the over-the-top video receiver Roku, from a company with no prior name recognition or credibility as a consumer brand, moved much more aggressively to populate its content offerings and integrate itself into the television ecosystem.

Apple has been rumored for months (if not years) to be ready to launch its own over-the-top service to compete with Netflix, Hulu and others, but was not ready for prime time by the WWDC conference. The rumored reason for this delay is linked to the need to negotiate the rights to distribute local broadcast television station content. Thus, somewhat ironically for a service seemingly aimed to break the cable bundle (by providing a slimmed-down package of video channels), Apple’s TV progress seems at least temporarily thwarted by one of the biggest drivers of the bundle, the still “must have” programming from broadcast networks.

Maybe the new Apple TV set-top box and content offering when it arrives will change the game, but Apple has already missed out on years of being able to do for (and to) the television business what it has done in music. Given the publicly expressed opinion of Apple executives such as Apple’s iTunes head Eddy Cue in 2014 that the TV viewing experience “sucks” and “has a long way to go” you’d think Apple would have seized on a number of key areas to make inroads (and dough of course) in TV. And the opportunities are still ripe for the taking:

Hardware – Otherwise known as “TV sets.” How did Apple leave Samsung as such a dominant provider in this space? Can you imagine the consumer excitement level if Apple had developed (or does develop) a large-screen TV? This is a product crying out for reimagining by Apple design mavens. Remember when you saw the incredibly cool “swiping” in the air of screens from the movie Minority Report? Yes, others have been working at this for years. But what if you could do that on your Apple TV?

NavigationComcast has certainly innovated greatly in this area with its X1 set top box (it’s one of the ironies of the failure of the ComcastTime Warner Cable merger that TWC subscribers never got the benefit of this). But there is so much more to be done throughout the multichannel video world in terms of enhancing content search, discovery and recommendation in the fashion that Netflix and Amazon have done so effectively on their platforms.

Cross-platform movement – No one is better positioned to create a seamlessly-designed user experience across multiple devices and platforms than Apple. Consumers are entirely comfortable watching major motion pictures on iPhones and off-beat YouTube videos on their large screen TV, and advertisers in particular have a huge stake in facilitating the seamless movement of the consumer throughout the experience. The new Apple TV device is rumored to facilitate cross-platform content movement but without a commitment to the TV hardware I’m not sure they pull this off.

Remote control control – This is not a typo. It’s 2015 and I still have to navigate 4 different remotes to get access to all of my video content options while still jumping on my iPhone, iPad and/or laptop for various “second screen” experiences. Apple can and should simply take this over and make this digital surfing work in and on one device. Please.

About the Author

Howard Homonoff is a media executive, management consultant, lawyer, and academic.

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