Apple TV service could fuel more hardware sales

Watching TV on a tablet computer
Jill Ferry | Getty Images
Watching TV on a tablet computer

Apple's senior vice president of Internet software and services, Eddy Cue, recently told CNBC that consumers are witnessing the beginning of a "reinvention of TV."

We might be starting to see what Cue meant.

Apple is reportedly in talks with programmers to offer an online TV service, which would include about 25 channels anchored by broadcasters such as ABC, CBS and Fox. The price of the service could be about $40 per month.

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The company's executives know that TV viewing behavior has changed dramatically, and that consumers want to watch what they want, when they want and how (or where) they want.

The tech giant is in a unique position to meet that demand with a range of devices including Apple TV—its set-top box—as well as iPhones and iPads. An online TV service could help Apple sell more of those devices.

"Anything that creates a larger ecosystem is ultimately about where they generate profits, which is selling more phones and potentially more tablets," said Walter Piecyk, a managing director at BTIG. "IPads, remember, have disappointed because growth is now negative. So, if this service gets you to buy more iPads, that's obviously a benefit."

Apple takes swipe at streaming content
Apple takes swipe at streaming content   

There are challenges for Apple as it considers launching this Web TV service. For example, the service reportedly doesn't involve NBCUniversal because of a falling out between Apple and NBCUniversal's parent company Comcast. (One report Tuesday said that NBC hopes to be on Apple TV as soon as fall 2015, however.) NBCUniversal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Also, Apple has plenty of competition in this space. Dish Network, for instance, offers a Web-based service called Sling TV for $20 a month. And Sony is launching an Internet-only subscription plan.

A question for investors is how much of a financial impact such a service could have for Apple. Toni Sacconaghi, a senior research analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, said it would be largely immaterial—less than 1 percent of company profits for every 10 million subscriptions.

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Sacconaghi said the service's principal value would likely be enhancing Apple's ecosystem.

And a streaming service may be just the beginning.

Cantor's Brian White writes that such a service paves the path for even bigger ambitions, including developing and selling a long-rumored television that would allow Apple to completely control the consumer experience.

Read More Apple plans Web TV service: Reports

Disclosure: Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC and CNBC.com.