There are rumors afoot that Apple will offer TV channels as apps in an upcoming release. This might work as an interim idea, but it has no legs long-term.
This idea is not new — for years, people have been arguing for “a la carte” cable television. The idea being, instead of simply signing up for several dozen channels, a consumer might instead select their own menu of individual channels, and pay accordingly.
Sounds good in theory; many people instinctively say “Yeah! I don’t need all the crap channels I get, just give me the good ones.”
But this suits no use case that I am aware of, and I think it explains why no cable company has given it a proper try.
How so? Because nobody watches channels. They watch content.
A channel is in fact an arbitrary grouping of television shows, most of which we don’t watch. Have you ever suggested to a friend, hey, let’s watch some ABC tonight?
If you believe that your cable plan is arbitrary and mostly junk, an “a la carte” offering of channels is much the same, at a slightly different level of granularity.
Think of movies or music. Do you say, hey let’s watch some New Line Cinema tonight? Or, hey, I wanna get that new Sony album?
No, you say “let’s watch Iron Man” or “I gotta get that new Cee-lo”.
Channels are an accident of history. The only a la carte offering that makes sense is content. Confusing “channels” with television is status quo bias, but not sensible in terms of your user experience.
Apple (and Amazon, and Hulu) are already doing a la carte television, on a show-by-show basis. Because it’s the only a la carte for which there is a market.
There are some exceptions; a few channels might legitimately be said to be content in their own right. I can imagine a paying audience for the Home Shopping Network or the Golf Channel.
Consider this. If you pay for cable, it’s because you actually prefer bundling. You like to pay one price, and know that you’ll get Modern Family and Dexter and Masterpiece Theater. Perhaps you like the experience of random browsing (a legitimate use case). You might also think it worth a premium to get shows as soon as they are available.
Barring those advantages, what are we left with? I can imagine paying for Modern Family. But I can’t imagine paying for ABC.