Why it could work anyway
Let's say for the sake of argument Apple can overcome these hurdles and get its set-top box and service to market. Will partnering with Comcast, which has notoriously awful customer service, shoot it in the foot? Anecdotally, my own hatred for Comcast was a huge factor in my decision to cancel cable TV last summer, and I've never looked back. I'm really not eager to subscribe to another Comcast service, but Apple products have a long track record of sucking me in — the iPhone's nearly four-year exclusivity on AT&T kept me from switching to Verizon, for example.
And guess what — AT&T didn't botch the iPhone experience too badly, because Apple wouldn't allow it. Apple insisted on controlling the whole experience, and all AT&T had to do was keep the network infrastructure humming and stock a few phones at its retail stores. Oh sure, AT&T tried to mess it up, from dragging its feet on tethering, to eventually abandoning unlimited data plans. But my iPhone never had an AT&T logo on it, or AT&T bloatware clogging the home screen — Apple even got to redo the voicemail system. It was an Apple product that happened to run on AT&T's network, and that was enough to keep me renewing my AT&T contracts and paying my AT&T bills.
If Comcast lets Apple handle everything but the network, the new Apple TV service could be great. However, Comcast has invested plenty into its own next-gen TV delivery systems, including its X1 DVR, which combines live and recorded programming with OTT services and apps. As Janko Roettgers at Gigaom points out, Comcast is notoriously competition-adverse — it won't allow its own customers to watch HBO Go on a Roku box, for example, preferring to route them through the company's Xfinity apps and products instead. So it's possible Apple needs Comcast's priority network traffic more than Comcast needs Apple to whip up a next-gen set-top box.
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