What the Comcast-Apple TV talks mean

Apple & Comcast talk streaming TV: WSJ

News that Comcast is in early but long-running talks for Apple to provide set-top box and over-the-top TV programming suggests that the over-the-top revolution in TV will now happen quickly.

It reminds me of the eve of the launch of iTunes: Music stores still had some time left, but their obsolescence was written in the stars.

The news comes just days after Sony announced its own over-the-top programming platform for PlayStation, and as Netflix and Amazon have been working in the past year to create original programming. In Amazon's case, there is also an effort underway to sell a hardware product you connect to your TV by April. Google can hardly sit on the sideline, or sit with just Chromecast, divorced from an original programming effort and cable deal in this new landscape. Google is more quickly transforming YouTube into a cable substitute complete with original programming and a cable-system deal seems now like a fait accompli.

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Wow that's all a mouthful. So many players competing over the same thing: the future of TV.

Why is this happening? I think there are a few forces at play. First, with so much data distribution in place, namely broadband and LTE networks, it was inevitable that content become king — or the battleground — once again. Everyone was competing over building physical networks (cable and cellular) and then platforms (like Google, Youtube, Facebook, Amazon, etc.) that the next battle has become what people consume in this third layer. It's not unlike when cable systems first got built out and there was a battle over building linear channels to provide engaging content to watch.

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Apple TV
Source: Apple Inc.

Second, people are tired of their cable boxes. After decades of cable-box interfaces that far lag the quality of web browsers, phone and tablet interfaces, and proprietary TV hardware like Apple TV and Roku, I think consumer demand has finally been heard. I think Comcast, and soon other cable companies, recognize that they need a leading hardware and software maker like Apple. They also realize that ceding the hardware and interface to Apple, and potentially other players, will make consumers happier, stickier, and actually lower the cost of leasing boxes. This is not unlike when AT&T made significant concessions to get the first iPhone and benefited enormously.

You can only fight the consumer for so long, and people are simply dissatisfied with their television interfaces and baffled as to why their TVs don't work like their iPhones.

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Will Porteous of RRE, an investor in BuzzFeed, once said to me: "Things take longer but then break harder and faster than anticipated." I've referenced that quote continually over the years, and I think with this much jockeying and movement in over-the-top TV programming and hardware, we are finally at the break harder and faster moment.

—By Jon Steinberg

Jon Steinberg is the president & chief operating officer of BuzzFeed and is responsible for all business management, company operations, finance, and social advertising operations. Follow him on Twitter @jonsteinberg.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent of NBCUniversal, which owns CNBC. Comcast, Google, Sony, AT&T, Amazon and Roku are current or historic advertisers on BuzzFeed. Google/YouTube and Facebook are BuzzFeed partners.