Quality content that’s family-friendly will help
“I’ll never forget this,” Apple chief Tim Cook gushed, leaning over to thank Oprah Winfrey for closing out the company’s long-awaited unveiling of its new streaming service, Apple TV+.
To some viewers, the soundbite dripped with irony. The ceremony at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters Monday was almost entirely forgettable. Sure, there was plenty of star power, with appearances from Jason Momoa, Steven Spielberg, Winfrey, and even Big Bird, among others.
But Apple’s presentation left more questions than answers. When will its shows arrive? We received only a vague fall release date. Why were Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell and Reese Witherspoon brought onstage to discuss their upcoming series — on the drama of a morning news show — without a trailer to promote it? (Though Apple did release a two-minute sizzle reel of all its shows on Monday.)
Most importantly: How much will the streaming service cost? That remains unanswered.
It wasn’t an auspicious start. Apple’s stock dropped 1.2 percent on Monday, hitting $188.74 per share.
So what will Apple TV+ need to be successful?
“Bottom line: great original content remains both king and queen,” screenwriter and UCLA film professor Neil Landau said. Brian Frons, former president of ABC Daytime, agreed, saying, “You’re not going to subscribe to it just because it’s Apple.”
This might seem obvious, but to compete in an increasingly saturated streaming market, Apple will need hit shows. Hulu has “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Amazon has “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel.” Netflix has “Stranger Things,” “Narcos,” and several other shows to point to. Apple will need its own crowd pleaser to draw eyeballs away from its competitors.
Apple wants its shows to be “family-friendly,” and even spiked a Dr. Dre biographical series last year for being too raunchy, according to The Wall Street Journal. Frons said this is likely a “good move,” allowing Apple to zig where others have zagged.
“Kids are the earliest adapters of new technology,” Frons said. “If you’re sitting with your toddler at dinner and hand them an iPad to watch their favorite new show from Apple, you’ve done two things: you’ve made the parents happy by giving them kid-friendly content, and you’ve started a relationship with that child early not just through hardware but through content.”
Another thing working in Apple’s favor is its network of 1.4 billion connected devices. Netflix, for comparison, is the dominant streaming service in the world with about 140 million customers. “Apple has a huge advantage right out of the gate due to their ubiquity,” Landau said.
To leverage that advantage, he said Apple would be wise to give its shows away for free — if only on a short-term basis — to pull eyeballs its way. “If Apple can create great groundbreaking series and make them free for viewers to sample each pilot, and if their streaming service app is easy to navigate, they could hit pay dirt,” Landau said.
“Their devices — that’s their advantage,” Frons added. “If I have all Apple devices, and I hear enough communication from them that this is something I’m now getting, and they have something that catches my eye, this works two ways. It keeps me in their ecosystem longer, ultimately, because I’m watching their video. But also, in the [streaming] world, part of the marketing effort is to have great shows that I tell my friends they need to watch.”
While the service may come with a monthly cost to viewers on non-Apple products, giving its content away for “free” to Apple customers would give “just another reason to turn to their iPhone,” said Paul Hardart, former Warner Bros. executive and current head of the Entertainment, Media and Technology Program at New York University.
This value-add would keep users in Apple’s ecosystem and allow Apple to sell other products and licensed shows and movies to its customers — comparable to what Amazon has done with its Prime memberships granting access to Amazon Prime Video.
That might be the key for Apple. To make up for a lack of library content, Hardart said, Apple must strike licensing deals and potential bundle-packages with services. Along those lines, Apple unveiled Apple TV Channels on Monday, allowing viewers to sign up for standalone channels from HBO, Starz, Showtime, and other services, but did not reveal whether a bundle package is in the works. Hardart said Apple’s size alone should help it strike favorable licensing deals.
“You can think of it as akin to the DVD market. You basically had to be in Walmart. You didn’t have to like Walmart, but you sort of had to be in there. It controlled 40 percent of the DVD market,” Hardart explained.
He said it will take Apple a long time to scale up to the level of content it will need to match Netflix and other competitors.