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Secret Apple deal hints at TV future

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Secretive Apple has inked a secretive deal with a major entertainment-info supplier that has revived speculation that Cupertino is readying a living-room putsch push far more aggressive than its Jobsian hobby, the Apple TV.

"We believe this announcement is further evidence that Apple is developing live TV and DVR features for its Apple TV product," wrote Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster in a research note to his clients Monday, "and will likely launch an all-in-one Apple Television in the next 2-4 years."

To be frank, the PJ analyst is making a, well, Munstrously large imaginative leap, seeing as how the Securities and Exchange Commission filing revealing the deal describes it, in toto, as follows: "Rovi Corporation (the "Company") announced today that it has entered into a multi-year agreement with Apple Inc. whereby Apple shall license intellectual property from the Company. The specific terms of the license agreement are confidential."

Munster has beaten the Apple-branded television drum before. In August of last year he told his clients: "Such a device would command a premium among a competitive field of budget TVs; we believe Apple could differentiate itself with software that makes home entertainment simple and solves a pain point for consumers (complicated TV and component systems)."

Although no one outside of One Infinite Loop knows what's bubbling in the mind of Jobs, the confidential agreement is an intriguing hint at Apple's TV plans.

Rovi, headquartered in Santa Clara, California, describes itself as "a global leader in digital entertainment technology solutions" that include "guidance technology, entertainment data, content protection and content networking technology."

Rovi's entertainment-data trove is impressive. The company claims that it possesses media metadata on more than 2.5 million television programs, 430,000 movies, 62,000 video games, 7.5 million books, and an untold amount of music from pop to classical. It showcases these data sets in its websites AllMusic, AllMovie, AllGame, and SearchMuze (UK).

Among its offerings are "interactive program guides" (IPGs) to service providers that are part of a customer list of 37 hardware, content, and delivery companies that reads like a Who's Who of entertainment giants, including such notables as Sony, Panasonic, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Disney, Verizon, and Comcast.

Interestingly, that list of customers indicates that Apple and Rovi aren't strangers — among the company's "Online Retailers/Portals" partners is iTunes.

Rovi also has in its arsenal a Personal Media Manager with a Jobsian spirit: it "allows consumers to more easily clean, stream and share their digital media, regardless of source or location."

As we mused shortly after the Apple TV was introduced, we can only assume that Jobs & Co have more in mind for that little 0.3kg chunk of black plastic than merely streaming television shows and movies. With its A4 processor and iOS operating system, the Apple TV is ready to take on a larger role in your time-wasting times.

We don't quite agree with analyst Munster that Jobs sees a DVR future for Apple TV — that goes against both his desire for control and his belief that, as he said when announcing the li'l fellow: "People don't want to think about managing storage, they just want to watch movies and TV shows."

But an Apple-branded big-screen TV is not out of the question. Jobs has hewn closely to his "We build the whole widget" maxim for some years now, and it hasn't failed him — or his stockholders — yet.

And besides, after a future fanboi finished watching Jersey Shore on his Rovi-enhanced 42-inch Apple iVue, he could use the same premium-priced device to make a FaceTime video call to grandma while simultaneously sending her a video of Junior's first steps — shot, of course, with his iPhone. ®

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