A streaming TV service from Apple is once again rumored to be in the cards, as it has been at various times during the last five or so years. But this latest outbreak of speculation, which began with a March 17 Wall Street Journal report , is perhaps the most intense in recent memory. Not only does it have an unprecedented air of credibility, but it also possesses something else that had been missing until now: a tense “will they or won’t they” side plot.
According to the report mentioned above, Apple’s putting together a “skinny” bundle of around 20 to 30 channels for a Sling TV- or PlayStation Vue-like streaming service that it intends to launch sometime this fall. It further claimed the likes of ABC, CBS, and Fox are onboard, with Comcast-owned NBCUniversal being the most notable absentee.
It attributed NBC’s absence to a breakdown in talks after Apple came to fear it was being strung along by Comcast as the latter worked on its Xfinity X1 service. We now have the cable giant’s version of events, thanks to a letter it sent to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week.
It appears, based on the letter first picked up by Re/Code, that the Journal’s report was accurate insofar as NBC’s absence from Apple’s streaming TV plans is concerned, but not as to its cause.
“Not only has NBCUniversal not ‘withheld’ programming from Apple’s new venture, Apple has not even approached NBCUniversal with such a request,” Comcast attorney Francis Buono wrote in the letter, responding to a note filed recently with the commission by Stop Mega Comcast, a group opposed to the company’s proposed merger with Time Warner Cable.
In its note, dated March 25, 2015, the group had called FCC’s attention to recent “press reports that Comcast may be withholding its affiliated NBC Universal (‘NBCU’) content in an effort to thwart the entry of potential new video competitors.”
The story behind the story: As Stop Mega Comcast went on to explain in its letter, Comcast cannot withhold NBCU content from Online Video Distributors (OVDs) as that would violate one of the conditions it acquiesced to while securing regulatory approval for its $30 billion acquisition of the media outfit. And this would be the worst possible time for it to flout those conditions (or to give such an impression); it is trying to get another big-ticket merger—a $45.2 billion deal with TWC—approved by regulators.