Tim Cook wants to know: Why do TV channels even exist?
His question was part of a long, somewhat meandering explanation he gave Monday night about his company’s role in the future of TV.
“I mean, why does a channel even exist? Think about it,” Cook asked. “My nephew asked me that once. And I couldn’t answer it.”
Cook’s question, which he asked while on stage during the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, Calif., certainly makes sense. In the age of growing on-demand options like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and HBO Now, not to mention vast video-on-demand libraries, why are channels still relevant?
Even though streaming services are growing in popularity, and more and more people are “cutting the cord,” channels are still very relevant.
Traditional, linear TV is how we’ve been watching TV for generations. And about 100 million families still subscribe to traditional TV packages with bundles of channels.
According to Nielsen, the typical American still watches more than four hours of live TV per day. For now, traditional TV is the best way to watch sports and live events — there’s really no streaming service that for most people will replace a typical cable bundle.
But Cook is looking forward. And it’s clear that traditional, linear channels aren’t the future of TV. Live TV viewing is down, and on-demand and streaming is up.
Cook articulated his vision of the future of TV last month when he unveiled the new Apple TV — he said that “we believe the future of television is apps.” (This, it should be noted, is something Netflix has been saying for quite a while.)
Indeed, the last year has seen an explosion of on-demand streaming offerings from networks. You can now get programming from HBO, Showtime, Nickelodeon, CBS, and more without subscribing to a bundle of channels.
Cook’s question makes a lot sense considering what the new Apple TV can do. The device, which comes out later this month, has an app store, universal search, and is powered by Siri.
You can speak into the remote to ask Siri to perform many tasks, like “show James Bond movies with Sean Connery”or “show me animated comedies for kids,” and the device will show results from multiple services.
Apple is reportedly working on its own live streaming TV service that would put it in competition with providers like Comcast and DirecTV, and the new Apple TV would be a natural home for such a service.
But typical “channels” would lose relevance with this type of interface: You wouldn’t need to know what time “The Walking Dead” is on, or even that it’s on AMC — you could simply ask Siri to show you the latest episode of “the Walking Dead.”
Maybe after it knows you like “The Walking Dead,” it will record all future episodes of the show for you.
It’s also likely the new Apple TV, with an Apple TV streaming service, would suggest popular shows that are relevant to your tastes. Perhaps Apple would offer a “curated” selection of programming, like it has done in music with its Beats-1 radio station, with a live TV service.
Jimmy Iovine, the music producer who now works on Apple Music, hinted at such a service in a recent interview with Wired.
“Don’t we all wish that the [TV] delivery systems were better, as far as curation and service?” Iovine said. “That box helps you none — it doesn’t help. You’re on your own,” he said, referring to the typical TV box.
With this TV experience, and with services like Netflix and HBO Now complementing it, channel surfing would be a thing of the past. And indeed, like Cook says, there’d be little reason for channels.
Also on Monday, Cook talked about how the TV experience is “broken,” saying that even though there are hundreds of channels, it’s hard to find something to watch.
“If you just sit down and you say I’m interested in a comedy tonight, what do you do?” Cook asked. “You start scanning through this age-old guide that was developed in the 80s or so and hasn’t really changed that much.”
“It’s almost as if you step in a time capsule when you go in your living room and your turn on the TV,” Cook said.
Check out Cook’s comments on the TV experience:
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