Apple Realizes Just How Difficult it is to Stream Content

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We all saw the news this week.

Apple has delayed plans to announce a major overhaul to Apple TV at next week’s WWDC.

Back in March, BuzzFeed reported that Apple had plans to reveal the newest version of the device to the mighty “oohs” and “ahhhs” commonly associated with any announcement of such an upgrade at one of these conferences. But now with a potential delay, most sources are arguing that the product just isn’t quite ready, with BuzzFeed quoting one source as saying Apple TV is “almost there.”

But sources close to Apple are whispering something slightly different than product delays, albeit probably not that surprising. Apple has never been one to have much trouble with product launch deadlines, and has always found a way to ship a complete product (sans Apple Maps) on opening day. Thus it makes sense that the internal whispers are actually blaming another roadblock completely unrelated to product.

The dreaded “distribution rights.”

You know, those pesky contracts that keep us all from streaming Better Call Saul in the United States while its readily available across our beloved borders in other countries. Or why the content library on Amazon Prime Instant Video is almost empty in Canada as compared to that stateside.

Even Apple, and its $160B cash hoard has struggled to navigate the complicated nature of distribution rights. Why? Because it’s not all about cash. It’s just an extremely messy process, and at scale, things start cracking under the pressure.

One example: Apple had planned to offer local broadcast stations through Apple TV, arguably one of the hardest elements of television to collect rights for. Every contract varies greatly and even under ideal circumstances, there are likely hundreds of negotiations across all regions in order to organize these local broadcasts for streaming distribution. Apple also is forced to rely heavily on these smaller networks to build technology capable of handling a potentially massive influx of viewership through the bandwidth-hogging streaming functionality of Apple TV. Because if Apple launches these local broadcasts and they don’t work due to some issues on the broadcaster’s part, it is still likely Apple TV that catches the bulk of the blame.

How about the bigger picture. Apple certainly is setting itself up nicely to be a centralized hub for a large variety of streaming services. But I still complain frequently (first world problem) about how annoying it is having to search at least a half-dozen apps to find the content I’m looking for. It seems likely that Apple has some big ambitions here with turning Apple TV into the equivalent of what the current major cable providers are for today’s live television, a centralized hub where you can seamlessly browse all streaming content under the Apple TV product.

But this is no easy task. Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, Netflix and others want you in their own ecosystems. They want you understanding that you are paying them specifically for their proprietary content, and would certainly hate to see the diminishing value of their own brands if coupled under the same umbrella. Netflix wants you to know they’re the ones providing you with access to all seasons of Breaking Bad, not Apple, not Hulu, but Netflix. And how do you get some of the world’s largest and most recognized streaming brands to play nicely together? All the money in the world isn’t going to make sense for them when it comes to their own aspirations.

If there was any current company that I would place a bet on being able to handle such a huge ask, it’s likely Apple, but let me be perfectly clear in stating that they have their work cut out for them.