Ad Blocking A No-Show At Apple Event, While Apple TV Hits The Spotlight

AppleTVIt was an orgy of new products.

At its “Hey Siri” event on Wednesday, Apple unveiled enhancements to the Apple Watch and launched the iPad Pro and something called the Apple Pencil, which is basically a super fancy stylus for the new, bigger iPad. The company also rolled out the next generation of iPhone 6 and, as anticipated, took the wraps off a much revamped Apple TV.

One thing not on the agenda: content blocking in iOS 9, which wasn’t mentioned once.

That’s hardly surprising, said Peter Hamilton, CEO of TUNE.

The ad tech and publisher community might be losing sleep over it, but content blocking in iOS 9, at least from Apple’s perspective, is just another small feature it’s rolling out to “protect the browser experience.”

“As consumers spend more and more time in trusted app environments, the browser becomes more and more focused on navigation,” Hamilton said. “When you’re trying to get a user where they want to go, untargeted interstitials and irrelevant advertising really get in the way and break that experience. Apple, and Android, too, will continue to clean up the browser experience any chance they get.”

Speaking of content, rather than the blocking of it, Apple went into detail on Apple TV, which is scheduled to ship in late October, unsurprisingly in time for the holiday season.

“The TV experience itself hasn’t changed that much in decades,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook. “In fact, the television experience has been virtually standing still while innovation has been thriving in the mobile space. Our vision for TV is simple and perhaps a little provocative: We believe the future of television is apps.”

Apple’s next-gen TV features an updated set-top box and user interface, a touchscreen remote and universal search across apps, including iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Showtime to start, as well as a designated operating system for the TV, dubbed tvOS.

Beyond the viewing experience, apps, like one demoed by flash sale site Gilt, will allow people to shop from their sofa. Airbnb, MLB, Disney, Zillow, Activision and others also plan to debut apps for the Apple TV.

Apple’s claim that the future of television is apps “opens the door to revitalize its iAd business,” said Tom Edwards, Epsilon’s chief digital officer for agency clients.

“IAd is enhancing targeting capabilities, partnering with third-party ad tech firms and building out their programmatic capabilities,” Edwards said. “With Apple TV becoming the central hub and aggregation point for entertainment across streaming services, it opens up opportunities to connect with more audiences and map content and consumption behaviors, and reduces the friction to find content across devices.”

The TV also includes voice controls courtesy of Siri. For example, users can depress the Siri button on their Apple TV remote and say, “Show me funny shows,” and a selection of comedy programs will appear on the screen ranked by popularity. If they say, “Show me the episode of ‘Modern Family’ with Edward Norton,” the “Modern Family” content page will open up with the requested episode automatically selected.

In addition, users will be able to use voice control to search for content in the wider world, say weather or sports scores, which then appear at the bottom of the screen without disrupting the show or movie.

It’s a step toward making the connected TV experience more enjoyable, rather than what Rachel Pasqua, practice lead for mobile at MEC Global, North America, called “the horribly broken on-set TV search experience.” That will be attractive to brands.

“Consider how it’s now commonplace to use your phone or tablet to search for companion content, join related conversations, etc. – very common user behavior which will translate on this bigger screen,” Pasqua said. “For example, after I watch ‘Game of Thrones,’ I usually go right to the IMDB message board, but HBO could capture that conversation by opening a live chat within the app right after the show airs.”

In terms of straight-up advertising, Apple could theoretically tap into its trove of user and account-specific data to personalize ads and maybe even charge brands more per spot for this privilege, which would keep ad loads in check.

Whether Apple’s mulling anything like that is a “big if,” said Bob Hall, SVP of business development at RadiumOne. The bigger question is whether users will adopt Apple TV at scale.

“The only way for this to work is with massive adoption of the device,” Hall said. “So, let’s see what lures they add to the product to drive people to buy it.”

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