Apple vs. Comcast has the makings of a great corporate rivalry

Someone’s going to get hurt.
Someone’s going to get hurt.
Image: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
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The most significant new detail about Apple’s long-rumored plans for an internet television service? Not the pricing, which channels it would include, or how it would actually work. It was this:

Apple came to believe that Comcast was stringing it along while the cable giant focused on its own X1 Web-enabled set-top box, the people said.

That detail, in the Wall Street Journal (paywall), suggested a growing rift between America’s largest cable company and America’s largest company of any kind. The Journal called it “a falling out.” (Both companies declined to comment on the matter to Quartz.)

Comcast has been developing its X1 cable box for several years, adding features like more intuitive navigation, cloud DVR storage, and an expanding library of on-demand content. The improvements appeared aimed at not ceding ground to web-only rivals like Netflix and, soon enough, Apple.

Of course, Comcast is also awaiting approval from the US Federal Communications Commission for its proposed takeover of the second biggest cable company in the country, Time Warner Cable. Whether this report has anything to do with that process is not fully clear.

“It’s interesting that this is coming to the forefront at a time when Comcast is in front of the FCC and also following the moves by the FCC to act on net neutrality,” BTIG analyst Walt Piecyk tells Quartz. Another BTIG analyst, Rich Greenfield, has raised the possibility that, if the Time Warner Cable deal falls apart, Comcast could bid for Netflix.

In any case, people are getting pretty excited about what Apple might do with internet TV. After all, it is a much more natural and logical product expansion than watches or automobiles.

“We are all used to this great experience on phones, on tablets, but TV is a completely different and inferior experience,” says Piecyk. “The opportunity for Apple to step in there and create a better experience and, potentially, a lower bill, that seems like something that’s attractive.”

To consumers, certainly. But to other video distribution companies, like Comcast? Maybe not so much.

It’s way to early to start describing Apple and Comcast as enemies. But in a rapidly converging media and technology landscape, these two giant companies are invariably bound to collide. So any signs of tension are worth keeping an eye on.