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Apple exec Eddy Cue: 'Television needs to be reinvented'

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

When HBO partnered with Apple last year to put its new standalone service HBO Now on Apple connected devices, it was instantly exciting to consumers, but it was also a surprising union of two competitors. Vanity Fair highlighted that tension at its Vanity Fair Summit in San Francisco on Thursday, in a panel called “Frenemies.”

For HBO to go to Apple as a distribution platform made perfect sense, but Apple also has plans to create its own original streaming content, which will make it an HBO competitor.

When pressed, Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior VP of Internet software and services, assuaged any fears that Apple wants to take on HBO and Netflix at the original content game. “There’s a lot of people making great content today, more than ever,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that we won’t create some content ourselves… But we think that the real opportunity for us is to make it easier for customers to get access to all of this wealth of content.”

The panel moderator Mellody Hobson, of Ariel Investments, asked Cue what Apple would do if “a version of ‘Game of Thrones’ landed on your desk and someone said to you, ‘You could make this.'” Cue responded, “Look, we’re doing certain shows today that we’ve announced, so we’re certainly doing some things, but I don’t think you’re going to see us do a huge number of them, I think you’ll continue to see us do more partnerships.”

Cue oversees all of Apple’s Internet-connected platforms, like iTunes, the iOS App Store, Apple Music, and Apple TV. That means he’s the lead on the TV deals that land television apps onto Apple’s devices; it makes him uniquely positioned to comment on how we will consume television in the near future.

If you ask Cue, the way most of us watch television is still outdated, and the options are only going to get better from here, thanks to services like HBO Now. “I do think television needs to be reinvented,” Cue said. “We live in a world where, today, if you’re consuming on your television, you live with a glorified VCR. You’re still setting things to record… The content is at an all-time high, there’s incredible stuff to watch, you can watch anything live, you can watch anything around the world. But the problem is: the interface and the ways you interact with it are pretty braindead, given where technology is today. So we think there’s a real opportunity. When I think of HBO Now, for example, it’s a much better experience today that I get on my iPad or my AppleTV than I do on my cable box or my satellite. Because it’s hard to use… Look, it’s going to get better every year.”

It will get better through continued ‘frenemy’ unions like the one between HBO and Apple; Cue threw out other names like Netflix, Showtime and AMC (other creators of original content that have their content available on Apple devices) as comparable examples. But these partnerships are developing even as Apple is itself looking to be a creator.

In July, Apple began production on “Planet of the Apps,” a program about tech that is set to be Apple’s first original digital series.

Since Apple has revealed plans to follow HBO’s lead into original digital programming, Hobson asked HBO CEO Richard Plepler if HBO would ever do the inverse: offer up individual episodes of HBO shows for purchase, right after they air (without an HBO cable or HBO Now subscription), a la songs on iTunes. It sounds like the answer is no: “We’re in the subscription business. We want to build addicts who look at our subscription as being a necessary part of their cultural experience, that’s our business model… The value proposition of the brand is that you come inside, and we’ve curated a lot of great things… We want to get you inside, and we think once we do that, and you marinate inside the brand, you’re going to find other things that you like.”

Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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