With the arrival of an AOL video channel on the Apple TV set-top box Tuesday, Apple is now bringing a wide array of free, ad-supported video across the deep moat it has built around its $99 streaming-media device.
The "AOL On" network will add more than 900,000 videos to Apple TV, predominantly short clips not only from AOL itself -- such as Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and originals like Nicole Richie vehicle "#Candidly Nicole" -- but also from high-profile partners like ESPN and the New York Times.
The broadening of AOL's video goals means that more free, longer-form content will be coming down the pipeline. AOL is producing its first long-form original series, "Connected," a US-adaptation of an Israeli series, and it will be adding full-length films from Miramax. the studio behind "Pulp Fiction" and "There Will Be Blood," following a deal in April. AOL video is supported by ads, rather than a subscription, like Netflix's model.
Since Tim Cook took over as Apple chief executive, the $99 Apple TV has been more of a bit player than a showstopper in the company's device lineup. More than two years have passed without a hardware refresh to a new generation, with most of Apple TV's recent updates limited to the addition of new channels, like AOL.
Yet some of the most tantalizing channels -- such as a Time Warner Cable app that would stream live channels from the cable provider over the Internet -- have been teased for Apple TV without coming to fruition. In addition, Apple's gated approach to channel selection is a stark contrast to that of Roku, its main competitor. While Apple TV has more than two dozen content partners, Roku has more than 1,300 channels and adds roughly 90 per month to its platform.
Rob Delacruz, the vice president and general manager of consumer experiences at AOL Video, characterized Apple TV's exclusivity as a sign of its commitment to quality. "They really vet their content partners," he said.
He also noted the importance of bringing more long-form content onto Internet-connected televisions, saying AOL has seen a fivefold increase in volume for its videos on connected TVs.
"When you look at the viewing behavior, on PC they're really snacking on short- form. When you get into tablet as well as connected TV, they're predominantly watching long-form content," he said.
Apple TV is the 15th device to support AOL video, a list that includes Roku, Microsoft's Xbox 360, and Amazon Fire TV.