Apps Are the New Channels

I got an email yesterday from an up-and-coming young blogger named Jason Kottke, with a screenshot of two consecutive DF entries posted earlier in the day — “Condé Nast Subscriptions Up 268 Percent Since Newsstand Launch” and “Bloomberg TV+ for iPad”. His note read, simply:

Reading these two together, the idea for a Newsstand-ish “TV Set” app popped into my head and then the iTV suddenly made sense. Sort of.


This is basically my theory, re: Jobs’s “I finally cracked it”.

Back at the original iPad introduction event in January 2010, everyone knew it was going to be a “tablet”, and everyone knew that a tablet, any tablet, no matter what Apple had decided upon specifically, ought to be a good outlet for newspaper/magazine content. And all the writers who work for traditional media publications were (and remain) obsessed with the future of their business, for good reason. So there was widespread consensus that part of Apple’s day-one iPad news would be some sort of iTunes Store system for newspaper/media content. Something, in broad hand-wavingly vague terms, like the iTunes Store’s music, TV, and movie content. Where newspaper/magazine content could be purchased and subscribed to and but would be rendered in a single written-and-designed-by-Apple reader app.

And when that didn’t come to pass, there was much disappointment. Apple did announce iBooks and the iBookstore, but nothing for magazines or newspapers. There was a palpable, “Damn, I was expecting Steve Jobs to save our industry today” reaction amongst the media contingent.

Whether Newsstand was Apple’s strategy all along, I don’t know, but I think it might have been. The app is the unit of distribution for newspapers and magazines, not the “issue” or the “article”. This puts more work on the publishers’ shoulders — they need to design, create, and maintain software, not merely publish content — but it gives them more control over the reader experience and more potential for creativity and differentiation.

Why not the same thing for TV channels? We’re seeing the beginnings of this, with iPhone and iPad apps like HBO Go, Watch ESPN, and the aforementioned Bloomberg TV+. Letting each TV network do their own app allows them the flexibility that writing software provides. News networks can combine their written and video news into an integrated layout. Networks with contractual obligations to cable operators, like HBO and ESPN, can write code that requires users to log in to verify their status as an eligible subscriber.

Why not the same thing for TV sized displays? Imagine watching a baseball game on a TV where ESPN is a smart app, not a dumb channel. When you’re watching a game, you could tell the TV to show you the career statistics for the current batter. You could ask the HBO app which other movies this actress has been in. Point is: it’d be better for both viewers and the networks1 if a TV “channel” were an interactive app rather than a mere single stream of video.

Collect them in a Newsstand-like folder on iPhones and iPads, and make them the “home screen” of a future Apple TV.

  1. Better for advertisers, too. Apps allow for fairly exact viewership statistics. There’d be no need for Nielsen-style statistical polling if exact analytics are available. ↩︎