Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm.

What Does Roku’s New Time Warner Cable App Mean For The Apple TV?

Roku handMaybe a little.

The news: Roku and Time Warner Cable — the second-largest U.S. cable provider — announced yesterday that TWC subscribers will be able to use Roku video-streaming gadgets as set-top boxes, featuring up to 300 channels. (PDF release.)

Why does this matter? And what might it mean for Apple’s maybe-someday TV set? (Or today’s Apple TV box?)

  • It’s now technically plausible to watch hundreds of channels of TV using Internet Protocol (IP) on a cheap (~$50), consumer-purchased set-top box, instead of using special cable protocol and a special, expensive, cable-company-provided set-top box. Other apps already do some of this, such as Verizon’s live FiOS app for Xbox Live, which includes a subset of channels. But this seems to be a step beyond. (Now, let’s see how good the actual experience is.)
  • It’s a Big Cable attitude change: Now permitting, not fighting, the idea of streaming TV channels to an actual TV. Previously, TWC only offered streaming to portable devices, like the iPad and iPhone, and went out of its way to block subscribers’ efforts to watch the TWC TV streaming app on an actual television. (Blocking your iOS device from AirPlay mirroring the app, specifically.) Time Warner Cable and Comcast also initially refused to let their subscribers sign into HBO GO on Roku devices, furthering the suspicion that cable providers didn’t want to share the TV with other devices. Now, things seem to be changing.

The big question about Apple, as before, is what its goals are for TV viewing.

If it wants to do something radical — offering its own, new TV service, without any participation from cable providers — this doesn’t mean anything.

But if Apple wants to let you sign into its device with your cable credentials and start streaming hundreds of channels — either directly via its OS or via third-party apps — that seems even more doable now.

Anyway, nothing huge, but a nice little step forward.

From The Archives: Why Apple Would Dare Partner With Those Evil Cable Providers