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Quick Apple Check-In

A glance at the TV side, and what that may bring.

In the wake of all this Spotify-Pandora-Google funny business, a common refrain I’ve heard from various podcast folk comes in the shape of this: “Let’s see if this pushes Apple to do anything.” This, of course, comes off years and years of Apple serving as the dominant facilitator of podcast listening, which it has largely done so at a hands-off remove. To recite conventional history here (subject, of course, to revision by any future podcast historian), the broad reception to Apple’s impartial stewardship has generally been a warm one, if not frustrating at times when it comes to folks unhappy with certain Apple Podcast app features and, more to the point, when it comes to business-building operators wanting a lot more analytics and growth opportunities from the platform.

Given the encroachment of roughly competing platforms like Spotify and Pandora — all of which seem incentivized to grow listenership and assume power over monetization — more than a few podcast operators are wont to believe that, surely, Apple wouldn’t stand for these other platforms eating into a medium they’ve historically presided over, and that perhaps they will finally step up and… do something, anything.

Of course, there’s a vast, vast universe of somethings. Even if Apple did move to ramp up its direct involvement in podcast-land — or, to frame it in the other direction, to preserve and strengthen its position — the crucial question is: how? Will the company end up building out podcast advertising technology to help podcast publishers make money? Will money-making support come in the form of a focus on subscription, tipping, or “in-podcast purchases”? Will they acquire a publisher and start dealing in original content on their own, for whatever reason? Will they fundamentally commit to their role as the impartial steward, but aggressively work to strengthen their position as the go-to listening app, the very top-of-the-funnel?

Some scenarios, taken by themselves, are more whimsical than others, clearly. At the end of the day, I think the key framework to bring into the analysis is this: how doesand more importantly, how can — any revamp of Apple Podcast fit into Apple’s broader business structure, models, and context? More specifically, how can it fit into the shape, practices, and rising core competencies of Apple’s growing services business?

To that end, I’m paying very close attention to, and thinking very hard about, Peter Kafka’s scoop on Apple’s upcoming plans for its new TV service over at Recode:

After years of circling the TV business, Apple is finally ready to make its big splash: On Monday it will unveil its new video strategy, along with some of the new big-budget TV shows it is funding itself.

One thing Apple won’t do is unveil a serious competitor to Netflix, Hulu, Disney, or any other entertainment giant trying to sell streaming video subscriptions to consumers.

Instead, Apple’s main focus — at least for now — will be helping helping other people sell streaming video subscriptions, and taking a cut of the transaction. Apple may also sell its own shows, at least as part of a bundle of other services…

… Apple’s partners believe Apple’s primary plan is to use the shows as added value giveaways, either to people who own Apple phones and other devices or to people who buy some of the other services it will roll out Monday.

To be clear: I’m not saying that this is what Apple is going to do to podcasting, yadda yadda yadda. I’m just saying that, as Apple-spotting is, like, a primary hobby of many a podcast person, it’s really worth paying attention to what’s happening in other parts of the octopus.

Anyway, another piece of related reading: “How Apple makes billions of dollars selling services,” from The Verge.