It’s not a super-smart guide, but it’s a start.
Apple’s TV app — Tim Cook’s attempt to create a digital TV guide, after giving up, for now, on a digital TV service — is going live today.
As we told you earlier, the TV app is supposed to let you quickly see what’s available from a selection of streaming video apps, like HBO Now and Hulu, and send you directly into the programming. And, as we told you earlier, Netflix isn’t participating in Apple’s new TV app, at least for now.
I don’t have any new comment from either Apple or Netflix about Netflix’s absence from the app, which works on Apple TV set-top boxes as well as iPhones and iPads.
So I’m going to speculate: The logical answer would be that Netflix thinks helping Apple TV build a smart TV guide — one that knows what you watch, and can guess what you might like to watch — could weaken Netflix’s position.
That’s because Netflix has spent a lot of time learning what you watch, and learning how to guess what you might like to watch.
If that special sauce becomes less special — if someone else has that information — then Netflix runs the risk of becoming an undifferentiated catalog of TV shows (and a few movies).
Meanwhile, the services that are participating, like HBO and Hulu, are much smaller (at least in terms of streaming subscribers) than Netflix. So they’re hoping that working with Apple helps them grow, and they’ll figure out the data stuff later.
It’s important to note that the TV guide Apple is launching today isn’t particularly smart. It knows (if you give it permission) what you are watching, so it can send you right to that show when you show up; if stopped watching in the middle of an episode, it will remember where you are and send you there. And it will tell if you a new episode of a show you’ve already watched comes on.
But that’s it: It’s not recommending shows based on your viewing habits. And it won’t tell you that if you liked “Westworld”, you might like “The Leftovers”, too.
You can see an obvious path for Apple to get there, as the guide collects data and makes itself smarter, like a Westworld robot. But for now, it’s a lot closer to a Roomba; well-intentioned, not life-changing.
It’s also very similar to Comcast’s* version of a next generation TV guide, available on its X1 set top box. And last month Netflix began working with that guide: Its shows now come up alongside conventional live TV and video-on-demand options, and Netflix has a dedicated digital shelf on the guide, where it can tell you about new shows.
Which means that for now, things are inverted: Comcast and Netflix, who sparred publicly for the last few years, are working together; and Apple and Netflix, who have worked closely for years, can’t get it together.
In a year of really big surprises, this one won’t hit the top of the list. But it’s still a head scratcher.
*Comcast’s NBCUniversal is a minority investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.