TWC Willing To Give Up Control Of Interface, Not Customer Relationship In Expanding To Apple TV

Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia investor conference today, Time Warner Cable’s president and COO Rob Marcus explained during a webcast session that the cable provider is willing to sacrifice control over user interface when it comes to broadening its services to third-party platforms, including Apple’s, but won’t give up direct relationships with customers.

The comments are pretty clearly meant to address recent suggestions that TWC and others have been in talks with Apple about bringing services to the Apple TV, though they addressed at any third party expansion. It’s the closest we’ve seen to one side or the other clearly stating their position when it comes to what it will take to get cable content on Apple’s streaming set top box.

Marcus’ comments could be a window into just what’s at issue in the negotiations between Apple and cable TV providers, which is likely the same thing that magazine publishers fought for back before Newsstand hit the iPhone and iPad: control over subscriber revenue and information. Magazine publishers had a hard time swallowing Apple’s 30% cut, and it’s likely cable companies are running into the same kind of issue, assuming Apple is looking to port its App Store revenue split to the Apple TV. Likewise, publishers enjoy having direct relationships with their subscribers, since that can translate to marketing opportunities and act as a key ingredient for advertising sales.

Eventually, Apple offered something of a compromise, allowing subscribers to iOS magazines and periodicals to opt-in to sharing their personal info with publishers. A similar set up might work for cable operators, but they have less reason to accept a deal. Marcus wasn’t optimistic about improvements in subscriber growth, owing to economic factors, but cable operators are hardly facing the kind of crisis that prompted major changes in print publishing over the past few year, meaning there’s less motivation to agree to Apple’s terms.

Essentially, Marcus’ comments seem to offer a basic picture of at least TWC’s side of things: Apple can dress it up however they want, but in the end there still needs to be a TWC logo somewhere in that interface, and the cable co. owns the relationship with Apple enjoying the benefits of enabling that relationship, not the other way around.