Apple needs Time-Warner Cable more than does Comcast

Tech news changed last week faster than the weather. At the beginning of the week Charter Communications was trying to buy Time-Warner Cable, then on Tuesday Apple was rumored to be close to a deal for Apple TV to replace or augment Time-Warner’s cable boxes, then on Thursday both stories crashed and burned when Comcast bought TWC out from under Charter, killing the Apple deal in the process. But does it really have to end that way? Not if Apple is smart.

I don’t care about cable consolidation, frankly, though a lot of other people do, seeing too much power being concentrated in Comcast. I would just like to see things shaken up in the TV industry bumping services quickly forward to where I’ll only have to pay for the stuff I actually want to watch. I suspect that’s where the Apple-TWC deal was heading. Apple would pay TWC for the privilege of taking over a substantial part of the cable company’s workload, cutting costs and raising TWC profits in the process. It was a desperate attempt on TWC’s part to avoid the clutches of John Malone’s Charter Communications.

Let’s be clear, TWC going with Apple would have undercut cable hegemony, something the company would only do as a last resort.

Then Comcast appeared, playing the white knight, cutting a deal for just south of TWC’s asking price of $160 per share (Charter had offered $132). Both Charter and the threat posed by Apple were thwarted since John Malone made it clear he wasn’t willing to increase his offer for TWC beyond $132 per share.

But what about Apple?

There will eventually come a time when the cable cabal is broken. Intel couldn’t do it last year but Intel frankly isn’t as smart as Apple. Maybe Apple can’t do it, either, but let’s consider what it appears to be giving up by walking away from this deal: Apple would be giving up a chance to revolutionize TV just as it has already done with the music industry.

American TV, depending on how you measure it, is about a $100 billion market. World TV is about $400 billion. That’s a whole lot of fresh new dollars to be gathered by Apple, which really wants and needs continued growth. Why wouldn’t it go for it?

Why wouldn’t it be worth it to Apple to put up the extra $30 per share John Malone would require to take Time-Warner Cable back from Comcast?  For that matter, why doesn’t Apple just buy TWC outright? It has the money.

Apple buying TWC would have far fewer anti-trust and restraint-of-trade problems than would the proposed Comcast deal.

If Apple really cares about television and video entertainment, if it sees this as a unique chance to introduce new business models and further expand into a big new market, why wouldn’t it do it?

It might. I hope it does. It’s just a question of balls.

This story might not be over at all.

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