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Will YouTube TV Shake Apple Into Competing? Or Has It Already Headed to a New Platform?

Okay, Apple, your move. A string of online TV-related announcements from just about every one of its major technology competitors surely ramps up pressure in Cupertino to figure out its digital TV solution. Or not.

Apple has been notoriously frustrated in its much-discussed, but never-confirmed talk to transform TV in recent years. And as of this week, the competition in the digital TV space is just getting more crowded and competent. Consider these recent news bits:

  • On Tuesday, YouTube announced its version of the “skinny bundle,” about 40 linear TV channels, including local broadcasters, YouTube Red originals, bottomless cloud-based DVRs and search-driven recommendations for six linked accounts. At $35 a month, this is a smarter, fatter skinny bundle, solving many of the problems TV fans face. Importantly, it complements rather than replaces services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu.
  • The YouTube TV announcement came within hours of other big news from the company, including that people are now watching 1 billion hours of YouTube video per day. The company also announced a deal with Comcast to integrate YouTube on the Xfinity X1 set-top box. Netflix previously cut a similar deal, giving Comcast customers easy access to two big Internet services alongside all the traditional pay-TV offerings.
  • If that wasn’t enough to stoke Apple’s competitive juices, on Sunday, Amazon and Netflix each won their first Oscars. Expect more investment in award-worthy programming by both as they try to attract more subscribers.
  • And Facebook announced a standalone app that allows people to watch its video content directly on their TVs. The company also reportedly has been hiring numerous TV acquisition and development executives. Taking the next step to original produced programming, and maybe even a Facebook skinny bundle, seems inevitable.

That’s a lot of news, at a time when Apple has said little (Apple Music deals for “Carpool Karaoke,” “Planet of the Apps” and that semi-secret Dr. Dre series notwithstanding).

Yes, other wise souls suggested on this site that YouTube TV may be “dead on arrival.” Alan Wolk argued that the entire skinny bundle phenomenon is built on a faulty premise, trying to attract 10 million Millennial Cord Nevers by offering just enough pay-TV programming at a price that’s palatable to their also-skinny pocketbooks.

Millennials may be indifferent to such blandishments, because many of them are huffing that most addictive of substances, OPP, or Other People’s Passwords (including their Own Parents’ Passwords). As well, cable operators are competing more vigorously, offering cost-effective bundles of high-speed broadband (the real addictive substance here) and TV programming.

All true, though YouTube, backed by a market capitalization of $580 billion, can play a long game, using its bundle to drive even more views while selling highly targeted, programmatic ads. The substantial resulting ad revenues could be used to make the bundle bigger, cheaper or more sustainable.

So, when will Apple respond in kind? Maybe never.

It’s likely, after all those years of frustration with the pay-TV industry, that Apple’s attention is now focused elsewhere. Several reports suggest the company is turning its flagship iPhone into the next media platform – augmented reality – rather than continuing to try to fix the last one.

At last week’s Summit.Live conference, long-time Apple observers Robert Scoble and Shel Israel said the company has 600 engineers working just on augmented-reality sensors. The company also has bought several AR-related tech companies and partnered with lens maker Carl Zeiss.

Another tidbit: One analyst just reported that Apple has devoted 1,000 engineers to AR, creating a pair of lightweight glasses that can wirelessly connect to this year’s 10th Anniversary iPhone that has sent Apple shares roaring to an all-time high.

Another close Apple observer, Eunice Shin at Manatt Digital, suggested the initial system would provide 3D mapping, localization and similar utilities, but also open the door for AR games, built by all those creators who’ve made billions of dollars through the iTunes Store.

If this is indeed Apple’s main focus, and they can deliver a transformative experience at a high level, no one may care when YouTube TV and Facebook TV actually arrive on your TV-like screens.