Whoa. I think Apple may be in the midst of pulling off the coup of the century. Maybe when Jobs said "I cracked it", he wasn't talking about ease of use, but rather how to get ala carte TV channels. After all, let's face it, there are probably hundreds or thousands of UI designers who could make a usable TV UI if they weren't constrained by the cable companies.
Hear me out:
Apple: "hey, ESPN, we want you to provide ala carte service to the Apple TV as an app"
ESPN: "no can do, Steve, time-warner, att and comcast won't allow it"
Apple: "what if you force customers to be a subscriber?"
ESPN: "what's in it for us?"
Apple: "the cable company gives you a tiny micropayment for each subscriber. Plus, of course, you get in-app advertising revenue"
ESPN: "why would they do that?"
Apple: "because you'll give them a tiny micropayment of your advertising revenue. "
ESPN: "but we keep most of the advertising revenue?"
Comcast: "so, we make extra income off our existing subscribers, but ESPN does all the work?"
Apple: "yes. All you do is say 'ok', and you get more income from your existing subscribers"
ESPN: "count us in"
Comcast: "we're in, too"
... Time passes ...
Apple: "hey, want to make money on comcast subscribers who don't get your channels with their cable package and thus, can't use your app?"
ESPN: "of course!"
Apple: "ok. You know your app? Add a 99 cent/month subscription for comcast basic customers to use your app. You'll get $0.99 per month per user, plus tons of advertising revenue. Minus a small cut to us for facilitating all of this. That's only fair"
ESPN: "why would comcast allow that?"
Apple: "because they still get a teeny tiny cut of your advertising revenue, with no extra bandwidth cost AND no customer aquisition costs"
ESPN: "count us in"
Comcast: "so, we don't do anything extra, except cash checks from ESPN every month?"
Comcast: "extra revenue with no extra cost? Count us in!"
Multiply every channel times every cable provider. BOOM. Ala carte TV. (Though we still have to pay for basic cable)