Report: Comcast in talks with Apple for streaming service

In what could be a new twist on the old net neutrality conundrum--or perhaps positioning for better government treatment of its proposed Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) acquisition--Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is reportedly in talks to give Apple TV (Nasdaq: AAPL) set-top boxes special treatment on its broadband networks.

In a story first reported by the Wall Street Journal, subscribers to the cable giant would be able to stream Comcast's live and on-demand TV programming and DVR recordings to Apple TV set-tops via improved last-mile broadband connections on Comcast's networks.

While the story said the two companies were "teaming up," it did not go into details over how much Apple would pay and how its content would be recognized on the Comcast network. On the surface, it would appear that Apple has more to gain from the relationship than Comcast, which currently has an application relationship that lets Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) deliver iTunes content to XBox gaming devices on its network.

The proposal "is similar to Comcast's arrangement with TiVo--it sells boxes at retail that in some areas can access Comcast VOD--but going with Apple to create some kind of hybrid service would be a major change," an Engadget story said.

It would also be a major change for Comcast to accept another box when it is heavily promoting its box-dependent X1 service and toying with its own cloud-based IPTV delivery system.

Finally, as the Engadget report noted, Apple has never really moved beyond the hobbyist stage with Apple TV.

"Despite years of rumored negotiations and device testing we still haven't seen Apple jump out with a product to modernize/revolutionize the existing TV experience," the story noted.

The WSJ article also made it clear the talks are in their "early stages and many hurdles remain."

One of those obstacles--or perhaps a reason to float the suggestion in the first place--could be a move to allay concerns about Comcast's proposed takeover of number-two MVPD Time Warner Cable, which some critics see as a broadband land grab that will leave third party content providers out in the cold.

Finally, it could be an answer to Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) CEO Reed Hastings, who last week suggested that Comcast could go a little further in offering up net neutrality.

For more:
- The Wall Street Journal has this story (sub. req.)
- Engadget has this insight
- GigaOM has this article

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