Doug Garnett’s Blog


Future TV Skepticism: Why I Don’t Think Apple will Conquer TV

It’s been a crazy week of reports on TV. It started with the extremists predicting nothing less than complete destruction of TV. They report this, of course, with tremendous glee – after all it’s good for your career to predict the demise of TV.

On the other hand, we’ve been fortunate to read responses from savvy TV watchers who observe TV with more clarity and better awareness of history. In particular, check out this post by Wayne Friedman of Media Post. (Link Here.) And I highly suggest you read this one about why internet HBO would cost far more than cable HBO cable – far more than anyone would pay. (Link Here.)

But that’s all prognostication. We’re told, now, that TV’s future will come from a predicted (but not confirmed) announcement of a TV set from Apple. But, as an Apple TV owner, I’m skeptical.

The Theory. Those who predict great things about Apple undertaking a TV revamp observe, rightly, that Apple has taken highly complicated worlds and reduced them to simplicity.

Agreed. And, that agreement comes from experience. I’ve worked with Apple IIe’s, Lisa, and Mac. I lugged a Mac luggable then bought one of the very first Apple laptops. And I own iPods, iPads, iPhones, and even several AppleTV’s (home and office).

From experience, if Apple delivered TV that worked with similar aplomb to many of those products, it would be a really nice product. But, I ‘m skeptical about this potential. Consider…

Apple works without serious use of market research to learn about the market they’re selling into. This has been irresponsible. But it hasn’t been a big problem for them…yet. Why? They’ve succeeded because they were the prime prospect for the products they created. So designing to their own wants delivered all that was needed.

This is true of the iPad, the iPod and the iPhone. And it’s true of every Apple success.

At the same time, each of those products has weaknesses built into the Apple blind spots – because they are poor at projecting what people “not themselves” need. And that leads to an Apple arrogance.

Apple arrogance. Apple arrogance is seen most clearly in how the former head of Apple retail is driving JC Penney’s into the ground (partly by eliminating their group that listened to consumers to evolve their strategy).

Sadly, this arrogance is becoming quite obvious inside Apple. Consider that graphic and video material have been critical to Apple’s success and drive consumption of their biggest products.

Yet, they dashed headlong into a Final Cut Pro disaster that has those of us who create TV for a living beginning to adopt “anyone but Apple” strategies. My own attitude here is formed by my experience after writing to Apple CEO Tim Cook about FCP. The letter resulted in a call from some low-level PR guy (I assume) whose goal was to tell me “we’re right and you’re wrong”. Horrid, absolutely horrid.

Why I’m Concerned About Apple TV Success. This combination of research ignorance and organizational arrogance is a bad mix for any company – look at what’s happened to Sony. In the area of TV, I think it leads to Apple failure for two reasons.

1. Apple designers are far, far different from the majority of TV viewers. TV succeeds on the viewership of people who are the antithesis of Apple designers and executives. So their research ignorance leaves them entirely incapable of creating something that meets the needs of the average 27 hours per week TV household.

In fact, when I listen (as I do very actively) to tech people talk about TV, I find that internet TV fans adopt the intellectual elitist TV attitudes we’ve seen for a half century. Primarily, they hate the circus of TV. But it’s exactly that circus that makes TV successful. Until designers learn to love the circus, they’ll never create a great TV.

I say this from experience that started when I was part of the process that led DirecTV from selling technology to embracing the circus mid-1990′s (via the NFL) and watched TiVO lose their opportunity for massive success when they never figured it out.

2. TV is a shared experience; None of the Apple products are a shared experience. Fundamentally TV is about a large or small audience sharing entertainment together. And that’s a far different design problem from an individual watching video or browsing YouTube on an App.

This reality was WebTV’s limit – none of us wants to read our email on a 56″ public TV screen unless we live alone. Can Apple learn to design for audience viewing? I doubt it.

This is Skepticism – not a Prediction. Stranger things have happened than for Apple to succeed despite its weaknesses. But it doesn’t happen often.

Apple makes some tremendous products. And if they really did find a way to get past their own limitations and create an exciting new version of a TV set, that would be really neat – I’d buy one pretty early.

But I’m skeptical. And it’s not just Apple. As a whole, the tech biz doesn’t understand the TV viewer and the TV reality. Until that changes, we’re all going to be poorer for it.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved.

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