Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Apple's Subscription Platform A Disruptive Force

Given the Apple infrastructure of retail, a full line of products from Apple TV to Apple Watch, plus its iTune interface and AirDrop capability, it is no wonder that the news of it's entry into an online cable subscription service has created quite a stir.  From traditional cable operators, like Comcast, to other technological rivals, like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, Apple has challenged their current business models.  How?  Let us see.

Comcast may be concerned on a number of fronts.  While NBC is currently not in the mix for services on the new Apple subscription platform, they may be forced to launch based on their agreements with the FCC.  According to the NY Post, "As part of Comcast’s deal to acquire NBCUniversal in 2011, the cable giant agreed it would make its content available to online video distributors on a “comparable” basis to its rivals."  For Comcast, the debut of Apple TV could cause a rash of cord cutting as consumers decide they prefer the TV Everywhere advantage of Apple, the simplicity of use across all their devices, and the mobility.  They also undercut Comcast with lower subscription fees for a scaled down but desirable list of networks.  Add HBO Now and Netflix and consumers mayjust prefer the Apple TV box or iPad or iPhone over a cable TV box tethered to a single television set.  How does Comcast compete?  With an Apple launch scheduled for the Fall, they have about 6 months to build a new business and marketing plan.

As to the other streaming networks, Apple will compete with Sling TV and Playstation Network.  Amazon may feel they have lost a step.  They have the smart phone and tablet devices, but don't have the broadcast nets and most of their streaming is tied to their Prime subscription model.  Microsoft has XBox, but they have already disbanded the content side of that business to concentrate on cloud computing.  Building an infrastructure of content partners and a streaming subscription service may not be part of their current focus.  And Google has concentrated on building out fiber in limited markets.  They have Google Play and can reach outside the Apple closed infrastructure through the open Android platform.  But by being open, it may lose some control.

Still, the speed of change has increased greatly and mass adoption continues to occur at a quicker and quicker rate.  All of these technology companies have the ability to commit to change and focus on driving digital consumption.  And moving off of cable boxes and onto personalized devices delivers richer data about who is watching, when, where, and how, coupled with the same users using these same devices to make purchasing decisions.  Apple's infrastructure and usage base could potentially give them a huge edge in capturing a sizable subscription audience and rich data to drive advertising revenue.