What would make an Apple television a unique product offering for consumers is for Apple to go beyond the standard offering allowing consumers to merely view Internet video on a larger screen. Deep down, this is not want consumers want. What they do want is the ability to view their current content without additional clutter and mess. If Apple offered cable and satellite providers the opportunity to brand menus on the device - say for example, you get an on-screen guide with the ability to view your cable operator's channel lineup in your area - that would prove to be a competitive product in the current market. Service providers carry a lot of overhead to maintain their own inventory of boxes and other equipment necessary to process images.
Plenty of hurdles remain. Apple doesn't appear to have any deals with operators to sell such a device and getting them on board is likely to be challenging. The relationships between Apple and cable companies and content owners are tense. Apple has had only limited success over the past few years to persuade entertainment companies to grant it rights for TV offerings.
Take a huge amount of financial overhead off those companies and provide exactly what consumers want? That's a win-win.