Even if Netflix found itself flush with Apple-like cash it could never be successful as a middle man. Unless Apple offers up most of its war chest of cash, it will find itself in a situation similar to Netflix. Content owners have roughly the same amount of incentive to offer Apple premium programming as they do Netflix. Apple operates from more of a position of strength than Netflix given the popularity of its products, but that's not enough to impress and intimidate Hollywood.
Steve Jobs had apparently figured out the living room before he passed away. I am not exactly sure what that means. I'm pretty confident that it means he settled on the proper approach from key standpoints, ranging from utility to design to integration to marketing. But, I am not sure he was able to figure out the content conundrum. This is what makes iTV such a major gamble.
Even if Apple sells as many iTVs as it does Macs (just over 4 million
this past quarter
), it will not achieve the critical mass necessary for content owners to do what it wants. And, again, without knowing exactly what Jobs figured out, it's tough to determine exactly what Apple wants.
It appears, however, that the company wants to bring wholesale revolution to yet another industry. Historically, I'm not one to question Apple. After watching Steve Jobs steamroll through the music business, I have no doubt that Apple will send sectors such as education and eBooks for a loop. That process is already under way. But two things make the effort to reshape the way we watch "television" an uphill and potentially impossible climb.
Unless iTV grabs massive market share -- and fast -- content owners have no incentive whatsoever to get on board. Apple will be stuck with the same nonexclusive scraps Netflix and others have to settle for. The only way Apple obtains top-notch premium programming (and enough of it to put together a complete offering) is to pay exorbitant amounts of money for it. But it does not stop there. The content owners will demand that Apple charge viewers a premium to access that content through iTV. Just browse through the iTunes store. To put together a wide-ranging slate of television and movie viewing going that route would eat up a middle-class salary overnight.