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Apple’s Eddy Cue says the future of TV is much more interactive

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From sports to news to polling

Asa Mathat/Recode

Interactive television has long been the holy grail for TV content makers, but Apple’s Eddy Cue thinks the tech company has all of the right tools in place to actually make it happen. And it’s something that could impact sports, news — even polling.

Apple’s senior vice president was in the hot seat at Recode’s Code Media event this evening, speaking mostly about Apple’s upcoming Planet of the Apps reality TV show, but also talking about “fake news,” ads, and the state of the TV industry in general.

In an interview with The Verge, Cue said that Apple isn’t against the idea of making more original TV, but emphasized that there would have to have some sort of interactive element for it to make sense for the tech giant right now.

Cue said he could see a TV environment where content makers are creating a more interactive TV app, and where viewers watch the program on their Apple TV, iPad, or phone, using the remote or simply the touchscreen to interact with a show.

It’s a vision that doesn’t exactly match with what Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine told The New York Times yesterday; Iovine said that Apple is working to bring more scripted dramas to its platform and that they “just take much longer.” But Iovine also told the Times that Apple is experimenting with ways for audiences to interact with musicians, pointing back to the idea of interactive entertainment.

“There’s not a lot of interactive [content] on TV today, which is the challenge,” Cue said. He mentioned the Masters golf tournament on DirectTV and the booming world of fantasy sports as two examples. “Think of all these FanDuel and DraftKings fantasy games; most people are doing them while they’re watching TV. Why wouldn’t someone embed the two of these together?” Cue said.

Of course, FanDuel and DraftKings are a type of gambling, so integrating those into sports programming might be challenging; but interactive fantasy sports overlays have already found their way onto a variety of platforms, from the Xbox to Samsung smart TVs. And Xbox executives described American Idol’s text-based fan voting as “the world’s biggest video game” around the launch of the Xbox One, promising at the time to integrate gaming with television beyond simple text messages. Cue’s point is that few other platforms have the scale and power of the Apple TV and Apple iOS devices.

Another good example of interactive TV, according to Cue, would be running live news polls on a cable network like CNN. “‘How does America feel about ‘X’? The survey is usually a thousand people, ten thousand people. It’s a tiny number,” Cue said. “It’s crazy that we’re not doing this in real time ... with hundreds of thousands of people voting, not five thousand or a thousand.”

The question that naturally arises from this is whether this kind of TV polling would be biased, if it only included people with Apple products. It’s not a minor issue to consider in a time when half of the country feels polarized from the other half, and when techno-utopian views are coming under fire in an increasingly fraught political environment. And online polls of every kind can be gamed.

To some extent, it could be skewed, Cue acknowledged. But today, polling is done with a tiny demographic, “whereas there are a billion Apple devices out there in the world, in half the homes in America — maybe more. So we’re not that skewed.”

Cue wouldn’t put a specific timeline on when he thought this interactive Apple TV world would become a reality. He said developers have all the tools available to them today, but that they’re still looking at building apps for cable boxes, too, which are less interactive. Still, he said, he’s confident “that will change.”

Nilay Patel contributed to this article.