Apple is in talks with U.S. cable systems about letting consumers use an Apple device as a set-top box for receiving live television and other content, the Wall Street Journal reported tonight. Apple has long been expected to enter the TV market in some way, whether with a TV of its own or other hardware. There doesn’t appear to be a deal yet, possibly because of cable operators’ wariness of letting Apple gain a foothold in their business. Apple’s talks with the cable operators suggest the company is taking a less radical approach to expand into TV than had been speculated in the past. Building a set-top box might allow Apple a way into the TV business that resembles its successful approach to the mobile phone industry. That approach has allowed Apple to sell iPhones while wireless providers deliver the service and profit from the sale of data. The Journal said Apple CEO Tim Cook met with Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt last month at Allen & Co.’s annual media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. Apple already sells a device called Apple TV for $99 that allows customers to access Internet-delivered video such as Netflix and iTunes, but does not provide direct access to cable-delivered programming. Additional sources cited by the Journal suggested that the hardware could involve technology that would be imbedded into a TV set. Cable operators have been worried that Apple could erode their relationship with customers if Apple had a role in the set-top box. But a deal with Apple might also allow cable operators to reduce spending on set-top hardware while allowing them to hang onto their customers and sell them more services.

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