Q. What do you think of the new Apple TV video service? Do you think it will do well? Should I subscribe? — Cindy, Fairfax, Virginia.
Cindy, that’s a great question. There are hundreds of companies trying to get a piece of the action in the increasingly competitive fight for the video audience. But I predict that Apple’s slice will wind up being relatively small.
Before I explain why, here’s a few basic facts about Apple TV+, the new name for the company’s video initiative.
Apple TV+ will debut on November 1 for $4.99 a month. While that may seem like an attractive price, consider this: Apple will only offer original programs at launch. And even worse, there will be only nine. Yes, nine shows for $4.99 a month. Unlike its rivals, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, the company won’t carry thousands and thousands of titles in multiple categories. Apple TV+ is more like Apple TV-.
Apple obviously realizes that isn’t a very good deal so it’s bundling a free 12-month subscription to Apple TV+ with a new purchase of an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod Touch or Mac computer. The company hopes that millions of new Apple hardware owners will fall in love with Apple TV+ and sign up after a year of free viewing.
But for that to happen, two things have to occur.
One, Apple needs to produce a lot more original content. (It has the money and motivation so no problem here.)
And two, that content has to be very good. (This is where I have a problem with Apple TV+.)
Over the last several years, Apple has demonstrated that it has little understanding of the TV audience, nor the TV business. The company has flirted with everything from building a company-branded TV to buying and/or partnering with a pay TV company to developing an on-screen guide that would supposedly revolutionize the industry.
But until now, it has only produced the Apple TV streaming device, which is basically a knock-off of Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Despite occasional bold proclamations that it was capable of dramatically improving the TV experience, it hasn’t at all. In fact, the company’s contributions to the television industry are almost non-existent.
But what about this new original content division? Surely, Apple’s deep pockets and reputation for innovation bodes well there, right? Well, the first batch of nine includes a comedy/drama about a morning news show (starring Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell and Reese Witherspoon); a comedy about Emily Dickinson; an Oprah Winfrey-backed show whose details have yet to be revealed; a Sesame Street spin-off; and a documentary about an elephant.
Does this sound like must-see TV to you? Apple is promising more in the months following launch, including a show from Steven Spielberg. But when’s the last time that you ran to the theaters to catch a Spielberg movie?
I suspect that Apple’s lack of affinity with the TV audience will hurt the company here. It can certainly hire ‘TV people’ with experience, but ultimately, it will be up to the geeks at the top to decide what gets the green light.
And, again, Apple has shown no indication that it understands TV, or more specifically, the TV audience, whether it’s a big-screen or a mobile one. The company has done an amazing job developing such products as the iPhone and iPad, but video is largely a secondary aspect of both.
In fact, I remember when Steve Jobs first introduced the 3.5-inch video-enabled iPod, and he predicted it would be the future of television. Obviously, Jobs was wrong. Mobile video is still a secondary (at best) viewing option for most consumers.
So I predict that Apple will invest heavily in trying to build a video division with original content. But I also predict that its historic and deep-rooted lack of understanding of television will doom it to relative failure. The company is no threat to Netflix, or even Amazon, Hulu and the upcoming Disney+.
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— Phillip Swann