The new Apple TV is great for Web video, but it's no TV-killer

The new Apple TV isn’t the TV-killer many are still waiting for, but it does create a significant opportunity for digital publishers and video companies.

Last week during its annual September product event, Apple unveiled a fourth-generation Apple TV device. It’s a major overhaul to a product line that has more or less remained the same since Apple first launched the streaming set-top in 2007. Among its new features is a built-in App Store, which for the first time will enable third-party developers to build apps for the platform — an important milestone for Apple and potentially the future of video.

“They were only inviting ‘mainstream’ brand names,” said Frank Sinton, CEO of Beachfront Media, a media and technology company that builds video apps for mobile and connected-TV platforms like Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV. “All the TV networks already had access to it if they wanted to.”

With this shift, the Apple TV is moving closer to competitors like Roku and Fire TV, where thousands — if not many, many more — video apps can be deployed.

Roku is still the category leader in terms of usage, with 37 percent of U.S. broadband households that own a streaming-media device using one of its devices, according to a recent Parks Associates study. Apple TV came in third place at 17 percent behind Google’s Chromecast, which was at 19 percent. Apple itself has said it has sold 25 million Apple TV units during the product’s lifetime.

An Apple TV that can offer more than a handful of top apps can certainly drive sales and usage up. J.P. Morgan analyst Rod Hall issued a note prior to last week’s Apple event estimating that the company could sell 24 million units in 2016 alone.

It’s easy to see then how massive of an opportunity this is for thousands of digital publishers and online video creators — this is a major new distribution option that they previously did not have access to. “It levels the playing field for everybody,” said Sinton.

What the new Apple TV doesn’t do — and won’t for some time — is completely upend the broader TV business. The company is reportedly developing a Web-based TV service akin to Dish’s Sling TV, which could significantly drive more pay-TV subscribers to cut the cord. But the role the Apple TV plays among TV networks won’t change with the introduction of a new, overhauled device and platform.

“For the existing pay-TV ecosystem, this looks — at least for the moment — that it’s going to exist somewhat on the periphery of their business,” said Dan Cryan, senior director and head of digital media at IHS Technology.

“This device is not going to change things overnight,” he continued. “If you take the view that this Apple TV is the first generation where the device is a fully fledged product and not just a hobby for the company, then it can potentially boost the adoption of ‘app TV.’”

And that holds the potential for great disruption in TV.

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Time spent on mobile apps vs. watching TV

According to data from Flurry Analytics, the second quarter of 2015 marked the first time that average daily time spent inside mobile apps by U.S. consumers exceeded time spent watching TV. The daily U.S. average for mobile apps was 198 minutes, versus 168 minutes for TV. If Apple TV users now have access to apps that they frequently use on their smartphones and tablets, then it just creates more competition for TV networks whether they’re on the Apple TV platform or not.

“There are only 24 hours in a day,” said Simon Khalaf, svp of publisher products at Yahoo, which owns Flurry. “Just look at what happened after the iPhone came out, a lot of people did not predict that it would create this whole ecosystem of apps — the same thing will happen [on Apple TV]. It’s a competition for time more than anything else.”

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