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Rumoured launch of Apple TV product 'imminent', says analyst

With a flurry of new Apple products hitting the market in recent weeks, the prospect of an Apple TV has likely been on the backburner. A new analyst report, however, suggests that the launch of some sort of Apple TV experience is "imminent."

In a note to investors this week, Jefferies analyst James Kisner cited a source within an unnamed North American cable provider who told him that the cable firm was "working to estimate how much additional capacity may be needed for a new Apple device on their broadband data network."

"We believe this potentially suggests an imminent launch of the Apple TV," Kisner concluded.

He pointed to September comments from Time Warner Cable COO Rob Marcus, who said that his company was open to selling third-party technology, even if "in some of those cases that may mean giving up control of the interface." In August, meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal said Apple was in talks with cable operators to make their content available via the existing Apple TV set-top box. The report suggested that Apple TV could be competing with the likes of TiVo and companies that provide set-top boxes to cable firms, like Samsung.

As a result, recent talk about an Apple TV has focused more on a set-top box experience rather than an Apple-based HDTV set. Kisner's report was mostly focused on how an Apple TV might impact broadband data growth rather than how it might impact the TV market.

On that point, Kisner said an Apple TV experience could drive broadband growth similar to the data explosion it helped create with the 2007 launch of the iPhone.

"Without knowing the details of Apple's new product and how it will be marketed, it's clearly very difficult to even begin to estimate the potential impact on cable networks," Kisner wrote. "However, it's not hard to imagine, in our opinion, that a household with an Apple TV might watch/purchase several incremental IP-based videos per month, driving robust IP data consumption in Apple TV households."

Kisner mentioned a report from his colleague, Jefferies analyst Peter Misek, who said in August that there was evidence that production of a so-called "iTV" was in full swing. Misek "is forecasting Apple TV unit sales of 4.9 million units in CY13 and 11.6 million units in CY14. These estimates assume an actual Television product (not a 'puck' like the current Apple TV)," Kisner wrote.

Pacific Crest senior research analyst Andy Hargreaves, however, met with Apple exec Eddy Cue in August, who suggested that an Apple-branded TV set is "unlikely in the near term."

All Things D's John Paczkowski was also sceptical about the "imminent" estimation. The cable provider Kisner cited might have just been "doing its due diligence on capacity issues," he wrote. Paczkowski also pointed to the Pacific Crest report, and suggested that Apple would be in talks with TV programmers if a deal were imminent. But "we haven't heard anything along those lines," he said.

Rumours about an Apple-based television set have been making the rounds since last year after Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography mentioned that the late Apple co-founder was working on an Apple-branded TV before his death on 5 October 2011. Apple has so far been mum about its plans for a next-generation TV offering.