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How About an iTV Built by Sir Richard Branson?

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Dec 13, 2012 5:00 AM PT

When I first saw the news about the survey that revealed 47 percent of American heads of households were interested in buying an Apple-branded TV set, I thought, "Well, heck yeah, who wouldn't be interested in a real big-screen Apple HDTV?" And then the survey -- which was a Morgan Stanley AlphaWise survey created for its investors before it was widely reported online -- also claimed that respondents would be willing to pay a premium for an Apple-branded TV.

How About an iTV Built by Sir Richard Branson?

Again, I thought, "Well sure, there's no way Apple is ever going to release any sort of hardware product that doesn't come at a premium price. Par for the Apple course."

When you dig a little deeper into the underlying assumptions of the survey, though, the whole premise starts looking like a house of cards.

Long-time readers know I'm an Apple product enthusiast, and after the sheen of tantalizing Apple HDTV imagination fades away, even I have some head-scratching to do over a so-called "iTV," which is the term Morgan Stanley used to help respondents understand that the questions weren't about the existing hockey puck Apple TV set top box.

Let's look at the widely reported numbers, which come from a poll of 1,568 heads of households:

  • 18 percent of homes have a "smart TV" already (but may actually spend less time on the Internet on their smart TVs than those who don't have "smart TVs");
  • 11 percent said they were "extremely interested" in buying an Apple-branded TV set while another 36 percent said they were somewhat interested;
  • 46 percent were willing to pay more than US$1,000 for an iTV and 10 percent were willing to pay more than $2,000;
  • the average price people were willing to pay for an iTV was $1,060 -- 20 percent more than the their average $884 current TV; and
  • the 11 percent extremely interested folks translates to 13 million units in the U.S., while the 36 percent somewhat interested folks would translate to another potential 43 million units.

The Problem? An iTV Is Just a Whisper in the Wind!

Sure, Steve Jobs said he cracked the TV problem well over a year ago, and sure, Apple CEO Tim Cook says the Apple TV is an area of intense interest for Apple, and yes, some analysts believe an Apple TV is coming soon. As for me, I tend to believe Apple is working on an Apple TV and will release one . . . eventually. But will it actually be worth owning? I don't know. Will it be pretty? Definitely. Will it reshape the whole TV industry? Hah! No one knows.

What this survey says is that respondents said they were interested in an iTV. Right. Everyone who likes TV is interested in an iTV because an iTV is something "new." If Morgan Stanley repeated this exact same survey and said that Microsoft is building an "iTV," which will be better than just an Xbox 360 connected to a regular old dumb TV, I bet we could get a similar set of responses. Why?

Microsoft doesn't have the consumer cred that Apple has right now, but the Xbox 360 has quite a bit. Besides, the point isn't so much about Apple or even Microsoft as it is about the TV industry in the first place: I believe 47 percent of Americans are interested in any old TV set that has a faint promise of producing a better TV experience.

So what they were responding to was likely a little bit of Apple recognition for quality products, but more likely they were tapping into angst created by our cable and satellite service companies and propagated by HDTV manufacturers all trying to snag some living room dollars before their competitors find the TV stand first and squat there for six or seven years until the economy picks up and people are willing to get something bigger or better again.

If you asked Americans if they were interested in an iTV built by BMW, would they be interested?

How about an iTV built by Smith & Wesson?

How about an iTV built by Sir Richard Branson?

Ooh . . . heck yeah, I'd be interested in all of these options. Why? I'm looking for any TV that's not built by the current generation of manufacturers, all of which are disappointing, partially because of how the television industry locks up content channels. So in my mind, the entire premise of this survey is greatly flawed.

This isn't the same as waiting for the next iPhone or iPad -- at least those are real products.

Different How?

What I'd love to know is this: Will these respondents write a check right now and sign a contract to buy an iTV at their premium price point? If they did, these would be the terms: Apple would hold the so-called check but not cash it until -- no promises, though, none at all -- Apple created an iTV, at which point Apple would ship you the iTV whether you were still in the market to buy said iTV or not.

Do you still want that deal?

What if the iTV is 32 inches? What if the Apple logo glows and beats like a real heart? What if the iTV only works with Internet-streamed content? What if the iTV won't work with your cable or satellite TV service provider? What if, in order to use the iTV effectively, you need to buy everything a la carte or add a whole new subscription to your monthly bill? And what if you can't watch live NFL football games?

But hey, I get it. Morgan Stanley needs to convert the sound of the hot air being blown around by Apple enthusiasts (like me sometimes) into real market opportunity grounded in dollars and cents. If you're going to bother with that kind of projection, why not look at possible ways Apple could disrupt the TV industry instead?

The value of an iTV to Apple's massive yearly revenue of $150+ billion is highly suspect chump change compared to the revenue generated from its mobile devices. If Apple actually created something important and ground-breaking, how might that affect other TV manufacturers? Cable and satellite service providers? Internet service providers? Heck, the manufacturers of todays' DVR units?

Here's the real kicker: Apple doesn't even have to sell 13 million units in order to create industry change around TV consumption. It just has to provide a model that offers a different way of consuming big-screen, living room content. If you're a head of household, are you interested in that?

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at

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What should be done about UFOs?
World governments should cooperate to address a potential planetary threat.
The DoD should investigate -- they could signal a hostile nation's tech advances.
The government should reveal what it already knows.
The government probably has good reasons for secrecy and should be trusted on this.
Wealthy corporate space-age visionaries should take the lead.
Nothing. Studying UFOs is a waste of resources.
Keep the stories coming. People love conspiracy theories, and it's fun to speculate.