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Apple Wants Local TV in Its Web TV Service, Which Could Lead to Delays

Do cord cutters want to watch local TV? Apple - and the TV networks - think so.

Asa Mathat

If Apple launches a TV service, it won’t be the first company to offer TV subscriptions over the Web. But it wants to offer at least one thing rivals don’t have: Widespread access to live programming from local TV stations.

Industry executives familiar with Apple’s plans say the company wants to provide customers in cities around the U.S. with programming from their local broadcast stations. That would distinguish Apple’s planned offering from those already available from Sony and Dish’s Sling, which to date have only offered local programming in a handful of cities, or none at all.

Apple’s ambitions have complicated its negotiations with the broadcast TV networks, because most broadcasters don’t own all their local stations, and have an affiliate, or franchise system.

Clearing the rights to show local programs and commercials takes some time — ABC, for instance, spent two years getting the rights to show live programming via its Watch ABC app, and its livestreams remain limited to viewers in eight cities. Also, some executives say that providing digital feeds of the programming from dozens of affiliates will also require the broadcasters to build new streaming infrastructure.

That means that Apple may not be ready to launch a Web TV service in early fall, as it has told programmers it would like to do. Meanwhile, industry executives don’t believe Apple has signed any TV programmers up for its service, which makes it unlikely that the company would announce its plans at its Worldwide Developers Conference, which kicks off June 8.

That said, TV executives who are talking to Apple are optimistic the service will launch eventually, and that the most important hurdle to clear will be money, not technical issues.

But they’re warm to the idea that Apple will use its significant marketing muscle to promote the service and create a new revenue stream. And the fact that Apple is proposing to provide an alternate take on the pay-TV bundle, instead of blowing it up altogether, makes them comfortable with the risk the service could create for the TV Industrial Complex.

Also appealing: The notion that this Apple TV will truly be TV everywhere, with live programming streamed to millions of Apple devices with a screen, not just the slab of glass in the living room. In other words, the service won’t be limited to the Apple TV hockey puck.

An Apple rep declined to comment.

Apple’s interest in local TV may strike many as counterintuitive: The popular image of a Web TV watcher doesn’t sync with someone who watches, say, the local TV news.

But Apple’s pitch to TV networks is that it wants its service to have mass appeal — “this is supposed to be for 30 million people,” says one executive who has talked to Apple — and it believes local TV will be part of that. An alternative explanation: Apple may also be courting TV executives who would like to believe that local TV is important as the face of the network.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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