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Apple TV Could be Evolving into a Cloud-Based PVR

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Does Apple TV has its head in the cloud?

There have been a few reports in recent days about how Apple has been negotiating with broadcasters in its native US, which led to speculation that the Apple TV set-top box could one day add a live cable TV receiver in the next-generation version of the hardware.

The Wall Street Journal has added more to the rumour mill by reporting that Apple’s plans involve building a cloud-based personal video recorder (PVR) platform to “erase the distinction between live and on-demand content” and enable viewers to “start any show at any time.”

So, rather than viewers watching live TV piped into their homes in the usual way, or recorded onto hard disk recorders like TiVo, users would be able to watch current or recent shows that are streamed from servers on the internet.

It may differ from existing online catch-up platforms like Hulu (in the US) or YouView (in the UK) by enabling viewers to timeshift programmes that are still on by skipping back a few minutes to the start of the broadcast, in case they missed the beginning.

In the UK, the BBC recently added a similar Live Restart feature to the PC version of the  iPlayer, with plans to extend that to its various mobile and Smart TV apps.

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Details on what Apple may be doing exactly are still sketchy, though the WSJ claims that Apple has been negotiating for extended windows for video on demand content, meaning programmes could be available for a longer period than they are normally.

GigaOm points out that there are a couple of cloud-based PVR options in the US (through Cablevision and Time Warner Cable) but each have some limitations on what subscribers can do.

Janko Roettgers writes on GigaOm: “If Apple were to launch a cloud DVR, it would have to pick its poison: Either launch a true cloud-based DVR service that would have limited access to programming, or begin long and painful negotiations with local affiliates. Either way, it would likely end up with something that may sound revolutionary on paper, but would in practice look an awful lot like existing pay TV services.”

Even if it just stuck with the US broadcasters for now, Apple faces an uphill battle to get the licensing rights to do something this ambitious.

It would also have to negotiate with TV companies in all other major countries if it wanted to roll the product out around the world.

Wall Street Journal (subscription only) via GigaOm and Ars Technica

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