Apple reportedly talking directly with HBO, ESPN and others for iTV service

If you've kept tabs on the tech industry over the last few years you'll know very well that Apple has long been rumoured to be launching an "iTV service". The latest report says Apple is continuing work on its next-generation product vision with an interesting twist.

In a way, Apple has skipped cable companies in its pursuit for the iTV, for the time being. It is instead working with production studios and networks for content deals, according to Quartz in a lengthy report. The publication says the move emphasises apps over cable TV, which may make a bit more sense for Apple which has been app focused in recent years.

Some of the companies Apple has talked to include Disney's ESPN, Time Warner's HBO and Viacom, which houses programs like MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Spike, VH1 and BET. Quartz says talks are preliminary but show progress in the move for a web-based TV. It may reveal that Apple in a way wants to become the cable company itself, delivering a slew of networks and content over the Internet. 

Talks like the ones between Apple, studios and networks are nothing new in the industry. Sony, Intel and Google are also rumoured to be creating a similar web TV service, all pursuing the same companies in an attempt to bolster their content. Interestingly, the month of August has been full of web TV news. Last week, Sony reportedly struck a preliminary deal with Viacom to offer the media giant's programming on Sony's upcoming internet-based TV service. 

Apple wants to differentiate itself from competitors by offering an integrated TV set along with its iTV service. Quartz says it will be a fully fledged television set, rather than the cheaper set-top box Apple currently offers for customers to access app channels like Hulu, Netflix, etc.

On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported Disney-owned ESPN was in talks to take all of its content online through web-based TV services that have been rumoured from Intel, Google, Apple and Sony. John Skipper, president of ESPN, said customers (most likely referring to web TV providers) would have to pay as much or more than cable networks do for the web-based streaming of ESPN's services. Skipper said ESPN would refuse to offer just one of the channels in its network to the web. Instead, customers will have to have all of the entities of ESPN including the flagship channel, ESPN 2, ESPN U, ESPN Classic and more - offering the full realm of sports content.

Apple in its secretive ways hasn't confirmed plans for a television set or service, but it has left subtle hints. "There's a lot we can contribute in this space so we can continue to pull the string and see where it leads us," Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said on the company's first quarter earnings call earlier this year. Those words followed Cook's stronger statement to NBC's Brian Williams: "When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years. It's an area of intense interest. I can't say more than that."

Right now, customers in the US have few choices on where to get their TV content. The major cable companies include Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and AT&T, and two satellite providers, DirecTV and Dish Network. It's a similar situation around the entire globe. The thought is web-based TV services could push customers to make a huge switch.



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