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Apple hasn’t commented on the speculation. It has agreements with Hollywood studios for sales and rentals of movies through iTunes, but to create a TV that’s unmistakably “Apple,” it would likely require broader agreements with content providers, such as rights to stream live TV. Even Apple might not be able to challenge the content industry’s way of business.

“They’ve been able to break down those digital barriers with music and other applications, but TV is going to be one of the tougher areas,” Gagnon said.

In other words, an Apple TV could be an expensive flop. Staying away from CES is no guarantee for success.

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Peter Svensson can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/petersvensson