Speaking to NBC talking head Brian Williams this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook said: “When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years.”
Cook went on to upgrade Apple’s efforts in television from a “hobby” to “an area of intense interest.”
These cryptic comments support what Steve Jobs’s biographer, Walter Isaacson, told an interviewer, which is that Jobs said off the record that he wanted to “reinvent” TV, that Apple had “licked” the problems associated with said reinvention, and that Apple’s solution would liberate TV viewers once and for all from “all these complicated remote controls.”
If you want to tease predictive meaning out of these two Apple CEO statements, the key is in what each of them said and to whom and why.
In his statements quoted above, Cook delivered a very clear, two-part message: 1) the current companies responsible for TV are the past; and 2) Apple is the future of TV.
Jobs’ comments weren’t inconsistent with Cook’s, but they were opposite in the fact that Jobs didn’t say them publicly. We hear of them not from Jobs, but from his biographer. And we hear of them not in the biography, but from off-the-cuff, out-of-school comments by the biographer who was saying things Jobs didn’t want public.
Cook on the other hand, was deliberately delivering his two-part message in the most public forum available to him: prime-time television.
Apple is disciplined on even hinting about future product plans.
So we learned this week that Apple has changed its policy regarding what it says about plans for TV. The old policy was: Say nothing about it. The new policy is: Say something very specific about it.
What’s important about Cook’s comments is not just what he said, but who he said them to. Those comments were directed at the Hollywood studios.
So let’s understand Cook’s statement in the way that Hollywood studio executives would understand it: It’s a bloody horse’s head at the foot of their bed.
Tim Cook is the Godfather of Silicon Valley
One of the most memorable lines in the history of Hollywood movies is when “The Godfather,” Vito Corleone, tells his consigliere to make a Hollywood studio chief “an offer he can’t refuse.”
This is how Godfathers get their way in Hollywood.
The context in The Godfather is that a studio head refuses to give singer Johnny Fontane a role in a major movie they’re working on.
The “offer he can’t refuse” is made in the form of that studio chief’s prized race horse being killed, and its head placed into its owner’s bed while he’s sleeping.
The “offer” represents a very clear and unmistakable communication. Here’s the offer: “If you do what we want you to do, we won’t kill you.”
Pretty hard to refuse, right?
It’s the same offer Cook is making to the TV studios in Hollywood: “If you do what we want you to do, we won’t kill you.”
The studios have many options for who they license their intellectual property to and under what conditions. And, in fact, these licensing deals constitute their entire business. That’s where the money comes from. From a studio’s perspective, the creative work of making TV shows is simply the means by which they make the most advantageous licensing deals.
However, Apple is unique among all these potential licensees. Apple is worth more than $500 billion and has more than $122 billion in cash.
Apple by itself is worth far more and has far more cash than Walt Disney, Comcast, Time-Warner, Viacom, Sony and all the other TV and movie studios in Hollywood combined.
When the CEO of a company that’s bigger and more powerful than your entire industry says he’s going to reinvent your industry, you pay attention.
And when he says that all the other potential licensees, the ones you’re currently doing business with, are obsolete, and that his company is the future, there’s no way to read that as anything other than a Godfather’s offer you can’t refuse: If you want a future — if you want to live — do things our way.
Of course, Apple’s plans for the re-invention of TV involve new technology, new interfaces and new hardware and software designs. But they also must include a new way to discover, browse, buy, rent, receive, record and watch TV content. And those new ways of interacting with content require totally new kinds of licensing contracts with the studios.
So now we know: When Apple approaches the Hollywood studios to talk about licensing agreements and the terms under which TV shows and movies are made available to Apple’s iTunes, iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and iTV of the future, here’s Apple’s offer:
“We’re going to re-invent TV. Our version of TV is the future. The current version of TV has no future. If you would like to have a future, sign here.”
It’s an offer they can’t refuse.
Picture courtesy of Paramount Pictures