I’ve been waiting for a new Apple TV from Apple for years, and I’ve been disappointed each time a major Apple event came and went without one. Plus, I’ve been waiting for Apple to come along and disrupt the cable/satellite TV bundling status quo with some sort of a la carte streaming service, also to no avail.
Now I don’t think that second wish — some sort of vastly improved and less-expensive TV service — matters much at all. I think the time for it has passed.
Here’s why: Our TV and media consumption habits are now irreparably fractured.
End of the Living Room?
We no longer gather together as families and watch family shows at the same time. We do this for some sporting events and the occasional movie or happenstance episode of American Ninja Warrior, but family media consumption has evolved into a solitary experience in different rooms with different screens with different content and delivery models.
Plus, study after study keeps showing that the viewing habits of teenagers — and even 20-to-30 year olds — has shifted to online videos, video clips and YouTube — more and more often consumed via small screens instead of big screens.
In my experience with friends and family, this is what I see, too. Plus, I see even younger kids who don’t seem to care about seeing what’s on now on a traditional TV… but know exactly how to search and find a YouTube video on, say, an Amazon Fire TV or some other device. They want something specific. Plus, they want to be the ones to choose an on-demand kid show.
So the idea of watching Wild Kratts at a certain time when it comes on regular broadcast TV at 4 p.m. is hard to explain to them: “If you wait just five minutes, Wild Kratts will be on.” That seems like an alien concept, even though they are relatively media-savvy and more than happy to believe that a power suit can change a Kratt brother into a cyborgish animal. The bigger point is, they’ve already got this whole on-demand thing down pat.
It’s become clear to me that hese teenagers and kids will never take much interest in watching a TV show once a week for a whole season, which undermines any traditional TV industry attempt to deliver traditional programming channels, broadcast or streamed through an Apple TV.
The price doesn’t matter. The DVR doesn’t matter. Sure, it matters to a few old guys like me, and it will matter for several more years — but in, say, just two years, an extremely low percentage of 20-somethings will be subscribing to any cable or satellite TV service.
So what about streaming services? Even getting this younger generation to buy a bundle of “cool” channels will be hard. They just don’t seem to care like we used to. Heck, I know a 17-year-old who loves news who has never watched CNN on a big screen TV… but uses the CNN app daily on his iPhone. Not on his Mac, mind you — on his iPhone. There is just no interest in getting this content on an HDTV — heck, he might not even be aware that it’s “on TV.”
Meanwhile, What About Game of Thrones?
I finally started watching Game of Thrones this year when I subscribed to the HBO Now app and service. It’s pretty sweet, as long as there’s enough programming to make it worthwhile. Great quality app, blah blah blah. The point is, Game of Thrones is a great show to watch on an HDTV. The special effects aren’t always super astounding, but the storyline is epic, and epic stories are always better on bigger screens.
Yet I only watched a few episodes on my HDTV using the Apple TV HBO Now App. Why? For starters, it’s not easy to skip back 10 seconds when you miss a line of dialogue. On the iPhone, it’s easy. (And skipping forward and back is easy with Amazon’s Instant Video app, too.)
I’m sure this sort of lack of feature will be delivered via the cool new touchscreen-using remote control for the fast new Apple TV — but again, this will be too little too late to change TV consumption habits. I’m no teenager, but I’m now far more likely to watch TV shows and movies on my iPhone because it’s so handy and portable.
Most often, I get interrupted before I can finish an hour-long show. So I’ll start a show on the couch, get interrupted, and finish it in bed. For lots of households, this could be started on a living room TV and finished on a bedroom TV. Except that means you have to have several complicated devices, or devices that can sling or fling content around your house, which is possible, but expensive and under utilized.
The smartphone has replaced all this, because it’s portable and easier. Better? Better screens? Better streams? Better sound? Probably not — but convenient as all get out.
What True Detective Has to Do With All This
The second season of True Detective is not nearly as good as the first — but come on, the first season was fantastic. Plus, there is no getting around the brilliance of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.
The real problem with this second season of True Detective isn’t the mind-bogglingly bad dialogue and crappy scenes that spoiled the first couple of episodes. The issue is that the pacing doesn’t really lend itself to waiting a week for the next installment. I — like a lot of people, it seems — am not exactly bored, but having to wait so long for the plot payoffs is irritating.
TV.com has an ironic story about this:HBO Defends True Detective Season 2, Says We’re All Watching the Show Wrong.
To me, it just reveals that even with new and innovative writing and programming through HBO, even ardent fans are losing patience with old-school programming methods.
Back to the Apple TV and Why It Matters!
OK, this brings us full circle to the new Apple TV coming this September. If the Apple TV will be too little too late to fix overpriced cable/satellite TV subscriptions, what can it hope to accomplish? How can it save the living room HDTV if consumers of all ages are changing their consumption habits faster than the industries can keep up?
The Apple TV will survive and thrive if it can become an enabler. The App Store will let the Apple TV play in the new app world, where kids spend so much time on games and other content, however that shakes out.
It will provide flexibility for content providers to create more options for delivery. If someone doesn’t want to subscribe to HBO Now for two months to get True Detective, then maybe there’s another way to watch eight episodes after the season is over without buying them for US$1.99 or $2.99 a pop.
Maybe the kid who uses the CNN app on his phone might like sitting on the couch and using a CNN app on the HDTV — or might learn to appreciate Netflix on a big screen. All that is hard to say, but the new Apple TV promises to bring a new level of content, consumable in an easier way with the new remote control, presumably with Siri.
The bottom line is that old-school programming is on its way out — and the trend only seems to be accelerating — so the best way I see the new Apple TV fitting into our future is if it becomes more flexible and easier to use than ever. In this new world of the Apple TV, the Apple TV should simply become an enabler of content — not a fancy pants new service — as well as a home automation hub through Apple’s HomeKit efforts.
By being an enabler of all sorts of content, the Apple TV could roll with the changes rather than trying to direct them through a new Apple-branded streaming service model. As a home automation hub, the Apple TV stays relevant in the home, stays powerful, flexible, and centric, making the home a more exciting — and soothing — shelter.