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Here’s what Apple really meant to say today about its plans to sell web video

Eddy Cue on skinny bundles, translated.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Apple has spent years trying to assemble a “skinny bundle” of TV channels that it could sell directly to consumers. Last year it tried it again.

So it was surprising to see Eddy Cue, Apple’s top media exec, tell the Hollywood Reporter today that this isn’t something he’s particularly interested in.

“As a matter of fact, I'm not a big fan of the skinny bundle,” he said, and then went on to argue that the real problem with TV isn’t that people are paying too much for channels and programs they don’t want, but that the tech they use to watch TV isn’t good enough.

Again, this doesn’t square with Apple’s longstanding efforts — led by Cue — to deliver a skinny bundle. I asked Apple to explain the cognitive dissonance, and they referred me back to the Hollywood Reporter piece.

So now that we’re done with that exercise, I’m going to suggest that there are some things Cue would say differently if he were speaking to someone privately, instead of in an on-the-record interview.

Here’s my translation:

Of course we’d like to sell people a package of TV that would retail for about $30 a month, instead of two or three times that much — that’s what we wanted to launch last fall. And maybe we will, one day.

But we can’t get it now, because even though the TV guys are right at the edge of a cliff, they don’t see it, or won’t accept it. So they’re unwilling to shrink the bundles of programming they sell, which means that if we want to sell Fox, we also have to sell FX, etc. Which means our skinny bundle won’t be skinny after all.

So instead, we’re going with this “future of TV is apps” argument, which is true but also sort of beside the point it’s not the container that’s important, but what’s in it and how much it costs. But we’re done beating our head against the wall for now. So in the meantime, if Sling, or whoever, wants to assemble their own bundles and sell them via our app store, great.

By the way: We may not have to wait that much longer for the TV guys to come around. Because some of them have already. Did you notice that Viacom has just a single channel Comedy Central on Sling’s entry-level $20 package while the other programmers on Sling all have multiple channels?

Why do you think that is? I’ll tell you: Viacom agreed to put a single channel on Sling’s entry-level package because Viacom really needed to get a distribution deal done with Sling’s owner, Dish Network. That is, if a programmer really feels like they’ve got their back against the wall, their demands that you carry all of their programming suddenly seem less important.

And that’s how we’re going to end up with a really skinny bundle. Which we do want. Eventually.

There. That makes more sense, right?

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