"The mythical Apple television set that everyone talks about is already here," said Jeremy Allaire, CEO of Brightcove, sipping an iced cappuccino with The Verge on a particularly hot New York morning. "AirPlay is the trojan horse that has put connected TVs into every household with a iPhone or an iPad."
Today Brightcove announced that its App Cloud platform will create a toolkit to focus on helping media companies create dual-screen apps: programs which use the iPhone or iPad as a remote control while streaming HD video to television sets through an Apple TV. This technology, AirPlay, will soon work with Apple computers as well, provided they are running the newest version of Apple's Mac operating system, Mountain Lion.
With AirPlay, all the pieces of the puzzle are in place in a way that simply isn't true for any other big tech company.
Brightcove built its business providing backend support for video content produced by big media and marketing clients. It was successful enough to IPO earlier this year, raising around $55 million in its public offering. But Alliare has his eye on that last bastion of old media, the television. "We're talking about the biggest, best screen in the house. It's time to re-imagine them as a rich computing service."
This isn't a pipe dream of some far off future: a recent survey found that 80 percent of Americans are multitasking on a smartphone or tablet while watching TV. Attempts to create web connected televisions in the past, most notably by Google, have been stymied in part by poorly designed and overly complicated remotes. "The iPad with AirPlay changes all of that, by putting a powerful, intuitive remote into people's hands," says Alliare.
"The stuff I have heard about recently, what they are working on with AirPlay, just makes my head spin," said David Pakman, a venture capitalist with Venrock, who previously joined Apple in 1991 and went on to co-create the Apple Music Group in 1995. "With AirPlay, all the pieces of the puzzle are in place in a way that simply isn't true for any other big tech company."
When you have a choice between basic cable and 500,000 apps, things get very interesting
Apple's rivals are forging ahead along the same lines. Google has reportedly been working on a way to stream content from Android phones and tablets to Google TV sets. And with the introduction of the Surface tablet and SmartGlass, Microsoft is trying to capitalize on widespread presence of Xbox units in the living room. But in a bit of a role reversal, many observers see the Xbox as a far less open and inviting platform. "Traditionally it's been Apple, not Microsoft, who is big on having a closed, tightly-controlled system," said Brightcove's Allaire. "But in this case the Apple TV is a much more open and inviting platform for dual screen apps than the Xbox, which has remained relatively closed off."
Avner Ronen, CEO of the connected TV company, Boxee, also believes Apple is the leader right now in the race to master all elements of the digital hub, a connected living room where multiple devices can interact with different screens. "AirPlay is the most interesting by far," says Ronen. "But we are excited by everything that is happening with Apple and Smart Glass. It's going to bring a new wave of apps and consumers to the connected TV market, and that is a good thing for Boxee."
Several of the sources we spoke with rhapsodized about a future iteration of Apple TV in which apps were always on like television channels and users clicked through them until they found something they liked. "People don't like having to click around and pick an app, then wait ten seconds for it to load," said Ronen. "TV manufacturers pride themselves taking less than one second to click between channels, and I think eventually we will see a similar approach to browsing apps."
Walter Issacson piqued the world's curiosity when he revealed in his biography of the late Steve Jobs that Apple's founding genius believed he had "cracked the code" on how to reinvent television. But while early adopters may sing the praises of cutting the cord, the cable TV business is stronger than ever. The real key to transforming the industry, says Brightcove's Allaire, is not to try and tear down the way TV content is packaged and priced, as Apple did to the music industry with the iTunes store. "People are still going to want their live sports and their premium cable," he told me. "But when you have a seamless choice between basic cable and one of the more than 500,000 apps on iOS, things get very interesting."