Apple is talking with Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and other U.S. cable operators about letting consumers use an Apple device as a set-top box for live television. TiVo Inc. (NASDAQ: TIVO) and Samsung Electronics already sell set-top boxes, so far without making a big impact on the market.
The box would offer programming purchased from iTunes and some streaming apps like Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX). Apple wants to be the exclusive provider of set-top boxes using Internet Protocol technology, and it wants the cable operators to service the box.
By teaming up with existing service providers rather than licensing content to compete directly with them, Apple has chosen a less radical path to expand into television than it has considered in the past. The path is like the one Apple followed to transform the mobile-phone industry: convincing existing service providers to combine their service with Apple’s hardware and software.
Apple does not appear to have reached a deal with any cable operators yet. Television distributors and media companies have been reluctant to let technology companies get a foothold in the arena, worried about ceding control the same way record labels and wireless carriers have done in the past. But Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said the company believes the set-top device “will lead us somewhere.”