Noah J Nelson on Thursday, Feb. 13th
Let the record show that I am crazy, and not stupid. There are a jillion reasons why Apple never got into, and was wise to not get into, the competition to take over Time Warner Cable. However there is one good reason why the alternate reality where they did just that is worth contemplating: it would have altered the Internet landscape radically.
Now that Comcast will–barring the unlikely intervention of the FCC–take over the reigns of TWC the future of cable and internet service providers looks a hell of a lot like the present. That means few choices for consumers as to how the pipes get into our homes and fewer top level executives deciding what programming is worth gambling on.
As The Wall Street Journal reported this week Apple will likely release a new version of their Apple TC set-top box. They were in negotiations with TWC for the device to work with cable feeds. Much in the way that Microsoft has been looking to position the Xbox One. Comcast has been building its own “next generation” set top box. It is entirely possible (not definite, mind you) that the Comcast merger will dampen Apple and Microsoft’s plans for their devices.
The Journal already noted that Apple has scaled back their content plans for their box. The plan was to go around the cable providers, but with those providers also being the biggest ISPs in the market and net neutrality dangling by a thread (Comcast’s assurances notwithstanding), that idea went out with the bathwater.
Yes, it would have been a nightmare for Cook & Co. to take on the aged infrastructure of TWC. All those subscribers. All those DVRs. Nor has Apple ever shown any real interest or aptitude in the services market. I say this as someone who used to spend money on MobileMe and still forks over cash for iTunes Match once a year.
Acquiring TWC would not have been cheap, but Apple would still have had $100 billion left of its cash reserves for stock buybacks and sharks with frickin’ lasers on their foreheads. While Cupertino might not have been stoked about being in the cable biz, TWC would have given Apple their own ISP. That’s a weapon they could leverage against Google’s Fiber initiative.
I can hear John Gruber tsking that this would be totally out of character for Apple. He’d be right. They don’t let other companies dictate the battles that they fight. TWC was never in the cards.
Yet it is so deeply distressing that pundits are already calling this merger “too big to fail.” That the regulatory bodies of the nation are expected to rubber stamp a merger that will consolidate big media–the arbiter of consensus–even further. We needed someone to come in who had the means to burn the old model to the ground before the old model becomes the template for the new.
Apple had the means and opportunity. Too bad about the motive.
I’m confident that we’ll get to a saner media landscape one day, but the Comcast/TWC deal pushes that day further into the future.