Apple and Canal+ to offer Apple TV 4K as alternate cable box

A deal between Apple and French cable television giant Canal+ may breathe new life into the Apple TV platform in France, and show a way forward for the media streaming device in other markets. Starting on May 17, Canal+ will offer its 5.2 million subscribers the option of an Apple TV 4K, rather than a traditional cable box, for a 6€ ($7) per month rental fee.

Speaking with Numerama, Canal+ deputy general manager Frank Cadoret said that the Apple TV will help the company do two things: reach younger customers with a first TV box and give existing customers with families the ability to easily add a second box. Apple VP Oliver Schusser noted that choosing the Apple TV 4K over a traditional decoder means getting access to additional content, including the App Store and iTunes movies, as well as Canal+ programming.

Apple has spent more than a decade trying to make a dent in the TV business, but — due to a series of questionable corporate choices and aborted deals — hasn’t seen broad success with the Apple TV platform. From the beginning, it marketed the Apple TV directly to consumers as a standalone device dependent largely on iTunes content. Despite reports years ago that the company was working with Time Warner on a replacement for the traditional cable box, that product never surfaced, and Apple waited years to offer an Apple TV version of the App Store. Initial app developer interest was fairly high but quickly waned due to weak uptake from customers.

In recent months, however, Apple TVs have started to pop up in interesting promotional deals with television providers. U.S.-based DirecTV is currently offering a free Apple TV 4K if users prepay $105 for three months of DirecTV Now steaming service, a substantial discount off the device’s $180 starting price. Salt Mobile, a Swiss provider spun off from Orange, began using the Apple TV 4K as its exclusive set top box this March. These deals have collectively enabled the Apple TV to reach hundreds of thousands of potential customers, while the Canal+ tie-up expands the audience into the millions.

More interestingly, these deals suggest that the Apple TV 4K — a device that hasn’t received a gigantic marketing push from Apple — may win over previously reluctant cable companies solely by filling a need during the 1080p to 4K television transition. Unlike a large standard 4K cable box, which might cost hundreds of dollars for customers, as well as requiring special engineering and installation efforts, the Apple TV is small, basically effortless to connect, and less expensive.

On the other hand, competing 4K devices from companies such as Amazon and Roku are even more affordable, and sometimes smaller. So it remains to be seen whether Apple will actually gain traction here, or whether the Apple TV 4K will remain in a distant fourth place, like its predecessors.