So the Apple TV is coming (or so they say) and there’s a consensus emerging that instead of “channels”, it will feature apps. This is already the case with the current Apple TV with the NetFlix and MLB apps.
The problem with this approach is that it creates a set of little islands.
An App can be very powerful on an Apple TV (integrated in the set or hooked to it like now). It is much more than a simple raw video feed and can mashup together all sources of information and content into an elegant and powerful interface with user interaction. But this does not extend beyond the application itself.
There are already example of this approach in some ISP set-top-box. French ISP Free as a very powerful box (if not the world most powerful). It packs an Intel Atom along with a BluRay player. For the IPTV part of its triple-play offering, Free acts in a neutral way. It hosts 13 (S)VOD and 40+ catch-up TV services, implemented as HTML apps. The problem is that every service is an island.
When I want to see something, I need to enter every single one of those services. When I’ve found something I might be interested in, I still need to keep browsing to check if there’s something better in another service. If I want to see a moving, I start with the SVOD I subscribed to. Thanks to French content owners, I can’t see any movie younger than 3 years in SVOD. Let’s say I’ve found an OK-movie. Maybe there’s a recent blockbuster on a VOD service I would want to pay for. It means I will need to browse 3 different premium VOD services.
What I would like to see, is a unified browser for ALL available content, and for each of them, the price in all VOD services and if it is part of a SVOD subscription I already paid.
In the “Apps are the new Channels” approach, I don’t want to have to check all apps from the different channel and remember which channel produced which show so I can see it.
I want one unified system where I can get the most content possible with 2 payment models: VOD and SVOD and iTunes and NetFlix are already providing that. I fear that when the HBO app is available on the Apple TV, we won’t find any HBO content on both NetFlix and iTunes and that I’ll have to jump from app to app.