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Apple TV 4K could be used by big UK cable firm as set-top box

Apple is reportedly in early-stage talks with the UK's BT over a potential new partnership, where customers of the EE broadband service could be offered an Apple TV to watch BT's own pay-TV channels, rather than using BT's existing set-top box.

The discussions center around British Telecom's carrier and broadband supplier EE, reports the Telegraph, with the proposals involving BT providing EE customers with an Apple TV to use. The Apple TV would be preloaded with apps that would offer access to pay TV content produced by BT, such as BT Sport, as well as those of other broadcasters.

There is already a relationship between Apple and EE, with the latter providing the Apple TV 4K for a monthly fee, but without a pay-TV element. Based on the report, the plan could alter this existing deal to add the preloaded channel apps.

BT already competes with existing pay TV companies Sky and Virgin Media, and provides its BT Broadband customers a set-top box that uses the home broadband connection, with customers able to access many free-to-air channels alongside paid channel packages. BT Sport, BT's main self-operated channel, is also available to view via mobile apps and on other platforms, including the Apple TV.

Neither BT nor Apple have commented on the report.

It is thought the deal is similar to the one made between Apple and Switzerland's Salt announced at WWDC 2018, with the telecoms and TV company offering the Apple TV as an alternative set-top box to customers. Similar deals have also been made with Canal+ in France, with Charter Spectrum also examining the concept of replacing traditional set-top boxes with the more compact Apple TV.

The proposal is likely to be part of BT's consumer chief Marc Allera's strategy to partner with other technology companies to improve its services. Allera is said to have doubted that BT could compete with firms like Apple and Amazon in developing the company's own set-top boxes, with a switch to producing the software experience on other platforms likely to be an easier prospect than to maintain hardware.