The TV OS Of The Future Will Decouple Video And Software

I was at the Formula 1 US Grand Prix a few weeks ago. It was pretty awesome, even though I couldn’t see the cars travel the entirety of the 3 mile track due to the hills. To mitigate this, I used the F1 iOS app to track driver standings in real time. While I repeatedly shifted my glance between the track and my iphone, I realized that there should be drones hovering over the entire track, and that the camera feeds from the drones should be select-able from the app so that I can focus on a particular hairpin turn with replay controls. And that I should be able to follow a particular driver through the track from the various drone cameras.

It was a cloudy day, so I thought about enjoying that same experience at home on my couch. And then it occurred to me that the new Apple TV should enable the experience I had just imagined. Indeed, Apple is envisioning exactly the type of experience I just described as evidenced by their close work with the MLB. They recognize the opportunity of interjecting software into a video feed.

The MLB demo, as awesome as it is, demonstrates the single greatest problem with the Apple TV: content providers need to decouple video feeds from apps. To be fair to Apple, they can’t control this, but it will adversely impact app quality and innovation on the platform, ultimately to the detriment of consumers.

So what specifically is wrong with the MLB app that Apple showcased? It’s great to be able to see the scores for all of the games, and then jump into a game. I’m sure the product management team for the MLB recognized this as low hanging fruit for baseball fans. This isn’t the problem. Rather, the problem is that I may want my MLB experience to be highly integrated with Twitter and fantasy league(s) that I’m in. As the a hypothetical consumer that pays for MLB all access, I probably follow quite a few baseball-related twitter accounts, and I probably play a lot of fantasy sports across a few leagues.

Or maybe I want to see exact flight path of the ball in slow motion compared against the last 3 balls thrown by the same pitcher. Or the guy on 1st base creeping off to steal 2nd base, even if the main camera isn’t showing it.

The possibilities are endless. The MLB could theoretically build all of these functions, but they won’t. Depending on the “use case” for watching baseball, viewers will want to layer in different content and watch the game in different ways. The MLB will never accommodate everyone’s desires.

The solution is to decouple the video feed from the MLB app. If ABC/NBC/FOX/CBS were to provide all of the camera feeds from a game as an API for Apple TV, 3rd party developers could implement those feeds to create unique experiences for every kind of fan - the data junkie, the selfie-aholic, the fantasy nut, etc.

Just imagine the endless possibilities to make live football smart. I should be able to switch to any camera in the stadium, rewind any play, draw the flight path of the ball, the running path of the receivers, mark up the play with with my own X’s and O’s, etc. As the NFL layers in sensors into player’s pads and helmets, I should be able to see the force exerted in a particular hit, and Tweet a video of my buddy sitting next to me spill his beer in awe from the camera that’s built into my TV.

The official apps from the NFL and the broadcasters will never provide the ultimate experience for any fan. The only way accomodate everyone’s “use case” for watching football is to decouple the content from the app itself. This will empower 3rd party app developers to layer software into the video-consumption process in a way that accommodates any use case.

Although the new Apple TV has launched with official apps from most of the major networks and sports leagues, the apps are universally primitive UIs to select particular video segments and highlight reels. I expect that this will be the case for a while. But at some point, it will become clear that content and software should be separate.