Apple developing ad-skipping as part of TV plan
PETER BURROWS AND ANDY FIXMER
Apple is developing ad-skipping technology that would let owners of its Apple TV set-top box and future television devices watch shows without commercials, according to sources.
Apple executives have briefed at least two owners of US TV networks and cable channels, as well as some of the biggest US pay-TV systems, said people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. One proposal is for Apple to reimburse programmers for skipped ads, they said.
The company is seeking to develop television products with broader appeal than Apple TV, a set-top device purchased by 13 million consumers, chief executive Tim Cook said in May at the D: All Things Digital conference. Apple TV is more appropriate for "hobbyists" than mainstream viewers, he said. Apple continues to work on a "grand vision" to update TV-viewing that remains "much like 10 or 20 years ago", Cook said.
Technology writer Jessica Lessin reported on July 15 that Apple was working on the ad-skipping initiative.
With advertising accounting for the largest share of their revenue, commercially-supported TV networks have resisted skipping technology.
Dish Network introduced ad-skipping for broadcast network TV shows with its Hopper TV set-top box in March 2012. 21st Century Fox, Comcast's NBC Universal and CBS sued, claiming the service will destroy free, over-the-air prime-time TV. Dish sued the networks in New York, seeking a court ruling that it isn't infringing copyrights.
Almost three-quarters of consumers in a survey cited the ability to skip commercials as a main reason to use a digital video recorder, Google's Motorola Mobility unit said in its annual media engagement barometer released on March 19.
Apple has also been working to license more content for people to watch via Apple TV. In June, it announced deals to offer apps from Time Warner's HBO and Walt Disney's ESPN to customers who already receive those channels from cable or satellite pay TV services.
Apple is also reaching out to cable services, which buy content from media companies such as Disney. It is nearing a deal with Time Warner Cable that would let subscribers of that cable system watch channels on Apple TV, sources said. The companies plan to announce an agreement within the next few months, those sources said earlier.
While Apple pitched an ad-skipping feature to Time Warner Cable, the New York-based cable operator isn't interested in the idea, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Accessing content from the internet on a TV has become common since Apple introduced Apple TV in 2007. According to Leichtman Research Group, 44 per cent of US households have a TV set connected to the internet through a game console, Blu-ray player or streaming devices such as Roku and Apple TV. That's up from 38 per cent a year ago, the researcher said.
More competition is coming. Intel, the world's largest chipmaker, plans to begin selling a set-top box with web-based pay-TV service by the end of the year.
Apple's major competitor, Google, has also held discussions with media companies about licensing content for an internet TV service, sources said.