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By Dan Moren

Could this Showtime-Hulu deal presage Apple’s TV play?

Showtime on Hulu

Whatever TV plan Apple might have is still tightly under wraps, but an announcement this week by Hulu and Showtime has got me thinking.

The upshot is this: Hulu subscribers, who already pay $8 per month for the TV streaming service, will be able to stream Showtime content for an additional $9 per month—$2 off the premium cabler’s $11/month streaming service. Showtime’s content will then be delivered via Hulu’s existing website and apps across a variety of platforms, including the Apple TV.

It’s a clever move, solidifying Hulu’s role as a content platform, and extending its reach beyond just broadcast and basic cable networks.

I’m on record as being concerned about the fragmentation of online streaming. If every network starts offering its own streaming service, then we’re left with a mess—$8 per month here, $10 per month there, $15 per month over there. That death by a thousand tiny monthly payments could end up being as expensive as buying a bundle from the cable company.

What I’d like to see from Apple is similar to the system now where you have to sign into your cable provider to prove you have service, except instead you would simply log in with your iTunes account, where you’ve forked over your $20 per month or whatever. For one thing, that would allow Apple to simplify things with a single sign-on approach (and hopefully without the pesky need to “activate” devices). That’d also mean a single place to manage all your subscriptions.

Furthermore, if Apple can follow Hulu’s example and offer extra (or “premium,” if you prefer) channels at a discounted rate, but deliver them through the company’s own infrastructure rather than requiring you to use a separate app or website, then that’s even better. Because that could make it far easier to find a show, rather than having to remember which network to browse to. That simpler approach of “all in one place” that the company is promulgating right now with Apple Music could be equally, if not more, appealing in a TV service.

Of course, all of that means getting the content providers to sign on and cede some degree of control to Apple. Doubtless they’re all still plenty wary of giving away too much of their business.

Currently, Sling TV is the closest analog to what I’d like to see Apple offer, but where I think it still falls down is in its add-on packages. If I want to pick up Disney XD so I can watch Star Wars: Rebels, I can only get it in a package with a bunch of other kids channels. That’s exactly the kind of bundling I canceled cable to escape.

There are, of course, far too many questions left to answer about Apple’s still non-existent service, but I feel like the pieces are starting to fall into place.

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]