Rumor has it, as Adele said, that Apple is on the cusp of foisting upon the world a big-screen iMac that the world will call a television set, but its relationship with what we all think of as a television set is akin to what we’re all doing with television now.

“Television” used to refer to the set, and the things we would watch on the set which were supplied by television networks who provided the programming you couldn’t control supported by product advertising you hated for things you didn’t want. You would watch “television” when you got home. It was a thing you did based on someone else’s schedule and you had to wait a week to see things you wanted to see, and waste time on the things you didn’t, like Everybody Loves Raymond and CSI Miami.

Television, unless you weren’t paying attention and/or still believe you need to sit in front of the screen and wait until it shows you something interesting, no longer exists – or, more accurately, only exists if you want it to. Television isn’t a thing like that, but the programs and entertainment are all still out there somewhere, only now you kind of have to find them.

For an example, the BBC One is currently running series two of its Upstairs, Downstairs reboot each Sunday evening. It’s their answer to the Downton Juggernaut based on a classic series from when no one now alive was alive, and will be appearing on American television in some month’s time. In terms of “classic TV,” that means waiting until Masterpiece Theater shows it on PBS, and you can drink your milky tea and eat biscuits while pretending your own posh upbringing.

To me, that means opening up a Usenet client and searching for Upstairs Downstairs and downloading a multipart file that compiles on my iMac so I can watch the .avi multi-channel audio file using MPlayerX. I see it less than a day after it has aired several thousands of miles away from me on a network that I have absolutely no way of receiving.

This, then, is “television.”

I think Apple knows this, because I think this is how Apple wants us to watch “television.” Not according to someone else’s schedule and not crammed with programs we have no desire to watch. Instead, we watch what we want, when we want, as much as we want. And “television” is a screen that includes an agent that searches for and remembers the things you want to watch, and saves them until you watch them.

But – and this is a big but – Apple cannot simply make it easier for you and me to go find these programs, which cost a lot of money to produce and broadcast, without somehow compensating the producers, can they?

Apple’s TV is, I think, two things. First, a well-designed piece of hardware. That much is certain. That’s what they make. Hardware, that’s well-designed inside and out, streamlined and simple and looks nice sitting in your living space.

Second, it’s finding the things you want to entertain you, and making it easy to subscribe to them or rent them or buy them, sans advertising you do not want. It means buying a season of True Blood from HBO, and watching at your leisure. Or buying a game without buying a plastic case and instructions you never look at anyway. And buying My Week With Marilyn from The Weinstein Company complete with interactive historical footage about the movie on which the movie is based, The Prince & The Showgirl. And buying the Super Bowl from the NFL. And the World Series from the MLB. And the World Cup from FIFA.

On your TV.

All the things you use your TV for, all the things you watch or play – or even when you want to use the screen as a computer monitor for its built-in computer – will be arrayed for you using a simple menu that allows you to sort your entertainments by date, or unwatched, or length, or title, or category, or whatever. Whatever you’re in the mood for right now, and for however long you want to do it. It will know all, see all, remember all.

You don’t really care, do you, what the screen is. It’s Apple, so it’ll be very good, if not the best, screen there is. The hardware part, that is. The glass and silicon and metal bits. You don’t care, as long as it looks good. And it will.

No, what you care about is how it handles all the stuff. The episodes and movies and games and apps. How it knows what you want, because it’s a Genius. How it remembers what you were watching yesterday.

And one more thing. You’re paying for your entertainments, of course. And you’re okay with that, because now you’re only getting what you want to want, and not what the cable companies and networks tell you that you want. The one more thing is that you’re willing to share your viewing habits with those people. And the reason you’re willing to do that is that it kills – absolutely kills – the notion of Nielsen ratings. No more will one family living in Ohio determine what you want to watch. Everyone’s viewing habits can be accessed and spreadsheeted and picked apart, and suddenly (hopefully) quality starts to win.

It’s coming. It really is. Because if anyone can do this, Apple can. And once the suppliers start supplying programs for the Apple television, they’ll do it for Samsung and Sony (who already makes their own entertainment and games) and Toshiba and Panasonic. If you don’t want a big iMac running iOS in your living room, that’s okay, too. All you need is a hard drive and an interface and a store that sells you these programs. Apple already has that, of course, but the others can follow suit.

The networks are already dying, and they know it. Just broadcasting stuff is no longer a viable business. Controlling the product is what’s important. As Bravo TV says, watch what happens.

February 27, 2012

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