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Will Apple TV kill cable?

Apple TV is scheduled for a long overdue update, with rumors of a new interface coming this September coupled with a new programming offering to be released next year. Apple execs once famously described Apple TV as a "hobby," but there are clearly high hopes that the latest iteration of this media platform will be a game changer. What's different this time is that Apple TV is launching at a point when disruption is occurring across the media space.

Web-only media options such as Netflix and Hulu have proven to be a significant force competing with cable companies. Amazon continues its aggressive push into streaming media and its recent addition of the hosts from BBC show "Top Gear" clearly demonstrates Amazon is willing to spend whatever it takes to gain a foothold in this new digital environment. Competition is heating up like never before and calls into question the future value of the near-monopoly status that cable companies have had in the past.


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Consumers are increasingly frustrated that they are paying for 700 channels when they really only watch 10. Preferences for the types of programming desired vary across socioeconomic categories. What cable companies are offering is a giant pile of disparate choices most of which no one wants.

The more streamlined offering model is not popular with cable operators as it reduces the subscription fees they can collect. There is a reason why Verizon — and soon, Apple — will be in litigation with companies like ESPN. While some consumers may rail at only having one or two ESPN channels, I suspect most will be comfortable without the other half a dozen or so ESPN offerings. In this newly proposed, unbundled world of television channels, those who want more can simply pay for more.

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When viewers are asked what the biggest problem is aside from cost, the answer is that there's nothing on TV. What consumers are really saying is that there is nothing on TV that they want to watch that is available to watch right now. Not only do people not want most of the alternatives offered, they don't want to watch based on the dictated times by networks and programmers. The live-view model, despite working for sports and other special events, is a dying model. A demand model is clearly where the future resides.

While big cable providers are doing their best to move into the streaming world, companies that have significant experience with streaming media will likely have major advantages relative to legacy-modified alternatives. Netflix is a prime example of the streaming model that continues to capture share. A huge advantage Netflix has is that the cost of the service is a mere fraction of the typical cable bill that most consumers pay.

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So, will Apple TV change the face of television? It will and will be a part of a growing movement to provide more tailored alternatives in an on-demand basis through all distribution channels (including mobile). The cable companies will no doubt keep fighting in this new environment. But, at this point, it is less about expanding market share and more about reducing share erosion.

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Commentary by Michael A. Yoshikami, the CEO and founder of Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, California. He is also a CNBC contributor.

Disclosure: Michael Yoshikami does not own shares of Apple and has no other business relationship with the companies mentioned. But Destination Wealth Management may buy shares for clients.