Apple to Go After Comcast With Web TV Offering

And, thanks to net neutrality, they'll do it using Comcast's own pipes. But company won't let Apple use its TV channels.

Apple logo FooTToo / | Comcast Center, Jeff Fusco

Apple logo, FooTToo / | Comcast Center, Jeff Fusco

Apple and Comcast are about to start competing head-to-head.

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Apple is planning a “Web TV” service — basically a stripped-down cable offering, delivered via the Internet — that would feature 25 channels. It’s a Comcast cable competitor that, as of now, will carry no channels actually owned by Comcast.

That means no NBC. No Bravo. No SyFy.

Why not? Officially, it’s because the two companies had a “falling out” after talks fell through on cooperating on the service last year.

Why did the cooperation fall through?

The Wall Street Journal reported a year ago that Apple was in talks with Comcast to team up on a streaming TV service that would use an Apple set-top box and get special treatment on Comcast’s cable pipes to bypass congestion on the Web.

The fall-out happened when the companies couldn’t come to an agreement. What’s changed since then? Well, Apple doesn’t need Comcast quite as much as it did. The FCC, after all, just approved a “net neutrality” regime to govern Internet traffic. While the precise rules and guides of that new regime are still being developed, notes, the FCC will use that framework to act against Internet providers  that “block websites, slow them down, or create ‘fast lanes’ for websites that paid extra.”

Thanks to net neutrality, Comcast probably can no longer seek a payday from Apple for carrying Apple’s TV service and making sure viewers at the end get a crystal clear picture. And thanks to net neutrality, Comcast probably can’t just put its thumb on the scale and make it harder for its Internet customers to use the Apple TV service, either.

The choice that’s left? Comcast gets to watch a competitor use its Internet pipes to undercut its cable offerings. Yikes.

One potential method it could use to soften that competitor’s impact: Keep its own channels off the competitor’s network.

But Apple may be banking that Comcast eventually has to make its company-owned channels available: A condition of the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger was that the new company make those channels available to other cable and satellite providers — and to online video providers. (Most of the conditions of that merger expire in 2018.)

BGR thinks that Apple is going to kick Comcast’s butt:

In fact, a joint Apple-Comcast deal would have been a great way for Comcast to rebrand itself to show people that it’s actually interested in giving people a good customer experience and not just maintaining total control of its pay TV fiefdom.

Now, however, it’s got Apple offering its own pay TV service to a fanatically loyal customer base and it’s not going to get any cut of the proceeds.

Comcast doesn’t often face strong in-market competitors to its cable offerings — Apple’s project might be the biggest challenge the company has faced. We’ll keep watching.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.