With the recent announcement of WWE for the Apple TV it got me thinking. The Apple TV now has about 30 'channels' of content sources. While most of these either require another subscription or don't offer great content, they are nonetheless available. Also, many of these sources offer multiple sources themselves. So my question is, at what point will the Apple TV have enough content to get cable subscribers to cut the cord? There are still some big fish Apple needs to catch but not many. Sports are a big one but they currently have MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS. There are also some genuinely great cable TV shows that people will want access to. Between over the air network TV and back catalog TV shows and movies I generally find plenty to watch though. That costs me $20 per month for Netflix and Hulu plus the occasional movie rental or show subscription. At $100 bucks a month this saves me $960 per year. Add to that (in my opinion) a better experience then scrolling through a 1000 channels of mostly crap and I'm satisfied for now.
With this in mind I think Apple is closer to a new vision of Apple TV then I thought.
First of all even without more content they desperately need a new interface, the current one works but is not a pleasure. The interface only needs to solve one problem. Show me something I want to watch without blindly searching through multiple sources. In fact if they nail this good enough the rest of the interface can suck for all I care. Show me the top 5 choices based on smart analysis of my viewing habits and give quick options for altering those suggestions. I believe they have this solved and purposely keep the current version deprecated on purpose. They don't want it to seem like a complete product. Now though they have made it more prominent on their website and continue to sell more and more. There is obvious demand.
Next is content. I don't think they need to offer a 1:1 of content on cable but they do need some majors. Choose a handful of popular networks to offer their content on a subscription basis. Target content that early adopters already watch. Let viewers choose what channels they want and let the content providers offer package deals if they want. For the channels they can't negotiate subscriptions for they need to lower the cost barrier of a la carte viewing. People like to surf around and you can't do that with iTunes shows now. If they figure out a way to let viewers browse and sample shows without paying up front it would help out. Kind of like iTunes 1 min samples. Then, integrate iTunes season passes into the experience in a more seamless way. For example they could break up the cost of season passes so people aren't scared off by a large up front costs. Make it clear that season passes allow for viewing as soon as they air. In the long run for many viewers this would save them money over all you can eat cable.
But again the most important thing is experience. The iPhone had many shortcomings compared to other smartphones. Many journalists and consumers pointed this out at the time. Take the time to read the reviews and you'd be surprised how it was received now that we have the benefit of hindsight. An Apple TV would surely be received the same way. It will offer a better experience that is severely lacking in some major areas. Early adopters will make the jump and slowly content will make the jump to follow. If they nail the experience it will succeed, but it won't be a runaway success. And that's okay.