More evidence of Apple’s frustrating fight to build TV service

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Apple TV
The streaming TV service is still on the way, but not without some bumps in the road.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

John Skipper, president of ESPN, talked quite a bit in an interview about the future of Apple TV and in particular, Apple’s plans for a streaming television service that may or may not include ESPN. He revealed that Apple is apparently having a hard time sorting out the details with programmers.

“We have ongoing conversations,” Skipper told The Wall Street Journal. “They have been frustrated by their ability to construct something which works for them with programmers. We continue to try to work with them.”

Those frustrations aren’t fully clear, though a really good guess would be Apple is struggling to convince enough programmers that its radically different TV service would still be profitable and sustainable. After all, programmers make quite a bit of cash from the standard cable subscription services now. Apple’s new and differently packaged approach might cut into that.

WSJ asked Skipper about the risk seeing that services like Sling TV have taken off with a select group of live TV channels offered over the Internet for $20 per month. He said any losses are often remedied.

“Our concern was: there is no financial benefit to us if people trade down, but there is financial benefit to us if new entrants come in,” he said, before later adding, “We are highly satisfied that the overwhelming majority of Sling TV subscribers are new entrants.”

He even added some juicy details about what to expect in 2016, saying a lot of different packages should spring to life that will “get younger subscribers into the market.”

Despite clearly still being in negotiations with Apple, Skipper also talked very highly about the service Apple is crafting. He called it a “significantly advantageous operating system and a great television experience” that is especially good for watching sports.

It sounds like Skipper is trying to paint ESPN as cooperative with Apple’s efforts, while perhaps other stations aren’t so easy to strike a deal with. That’s great, but in a different interview with WSJ, he does mention that it’s not in the cards to completely leave cable at this point. He says ESPN content will remain alive and well through cable as well as in smaller packages and in Sling TV.

For a while last year, one of the louder Apple rumors was that its new television service would launch alongside the new Apple TV. September came, a new set-top box and App Store arrived, but the TV service is still nowhere to be found. Judging by the way Skipper talks about ongoing negotiations and plans, it’s possible we might finally get to see Apple show some love to cord-cutters in 2016.