The Wall Street Journal reports Apple is in talks with Comcast that could lead to the cable provider offering priority services for streamed entertainment for an Apple set-top box. Sources say the cable provider — the US' largest — would offer Apple's traffic special treatment over the "last mile" of cabling between an exchange and customers' homes.
This potential deal would mean Apple's streaming service would be able to avoid congestion caused by typical internet traffic, but The Wall Street Journal's sources say the companies aren't yet close to an agreement. Comcast would have to invest heavily in technology to support Apple's desires, and both companies reportedly disagree on who would retain customer information, and whether Apple is given a share of Comcast's monthly customer subscription fees.
Comcast would give Apple's streaming traffic special treatment
Apple had reportedly been in discussions with Time Warner Cable before that company — the second largest cable provider in the US — was acquired by Comcast for $45 billion, a purchase currently under review by regulators. Apple's apparent plans to secure the use of better network equipment isn't unprecedented for streaming service providers. In February, Netflix and Comcast secured a deal that saw the former pay the latter an unspecified amount to use a more direct route through its network, a move that aimed to speed up Netflix's streaming capabilities.
If the reported talks come to fruition, Apple should be able to provide a faster and more stable service than their TV streaming peers. Despite his company's similar deal, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said last week that the essence of net neutrality was that providers such as Comcast didn't "restrict, influence, or otherwise meddle with the choices consumers make." By offering preferential treatment to the most valuable company in the world, Comcast could be seen to be doing just that.
Update: The Information has corroborated The Wall Street Journal's report, claiming that sources have provided details on the set-top box that Apple is planning. As previously reported, the box is said to have a dramatically different interface from a traditional cable box — with on-demand menus replacing channel guides — and a particular focus on gaming. The Information says Apple wants iPhone and iPad game developers to make their releases compatible with the set-top box so users can play them through their TVs and use their iOS devices as controllers. As Bloomberg reported in February, Apple's new box could launch by the end of 2014.