Apple Eyes Fall Pay TV Debut: WSJ

Apple is in talks with cable programmers and most major broadcasters, including ABC, CBS and Fox, about a plan to launch an over-the-top pay TV service this fall that would feature about 25 channels, The Wall Street Journalreported Monday.

It’s the latest in a flurry of rumors involving Apple and its plans to introduce a pay TV offering. Re/code reported last month that Apple had entered licensing discussions with programmers about an OTT service that would offer bundled subsets of programming and rely on an Apple-crafted user interface.

The WSJ said Apple’s current TV talks don’t involve NBCUniversal, claiming that they had a “falling out” after Apple’s earlier discussions with Comcast didn’t bear fruit.

Last March,industry sources confirmed reports (subscription required) that Apple and Comcast had been talking for at least two years about a deal that would enable an Apple-powered device to offer a mix of live TV and other subscription video services in partnership with the MSO.  At the time, The Wall Street Journal said Apple was seeking a deal that allow it to provide its own UI and to deliver video services over managed IP connections that did not mix with broadband service traffic, and get a cut of the subscription fees. But those talks didn’t get very far, with one industry source saying that “Apple just wants too much.” Comcast, meanwhile, has pushed forward with X1, an IP-capable next-gen video service.

As for Apple’s current plans, the WSJ said Monday that it intends to offer a “skinny” bundle anchored by channels such as CBS, ESPN and FX, and aim for a price in the range of $30 to $40 per month.

Apple’s premium video ambitions got a lift last week when it was named the temporary exclusive distribution partner for HBO Now, a stand-alone OTT service that will initially sell for $14.99 per month and launch in time for the season five debut of Game of Thrones. (Cablevision Systems is the first cable MVPD to strike a distribution deal for HBO Now.)

In a bit of foreshadowing when he announced the HBO partnership, Apple CEO Tim Cook said it is now Apple’s aim is to “reinvent the way you watch television, and this is just the beginning.”

If Apple moves forward with a fuller pay TV plan, it will do battle with traditional video service providers and join an expanding mix of so-called “virtual” MVPDs. Sling TV, Dish’s OTT service targeted to cord-cutters that starts at $20 per month, launched on February 9. Sony, meanwhile, is inching toward the commercial debut of PlayStation Vue, a service that will initially be offered on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 gaming consoles.