Apple, U2, and a Painful End to a New Product Presentation

Apple yesterday announced a new iPhone, and a wearable, the Apple Watch. The presentation was fraught with difficulty, at least for those not attending live. The live video stream was a massive failure – apparently because of some errors in Javascript on the Apple web page hosting the stream.

And the end of the event was a bit embarrassing. U2 gave a strained performance of a new song, and, following that, the banter between Bono and Tim Cook was uncomfortable at best. This ended with a poorly-scripted exchanged between the two about giving away the band’s new album for free. Which, in effect, Apple has done: giving it to every one of the iTunes Store’s 500 million customers. And it’s not just free if you want to download it; Apple added it to customers’ music libraries, or purchased music lists, so even if you don’t want it, you have it now.

There was a severe disconnect between the smooth, subtle presentation of the Apple Watch and the clunky performance of a new U2 song that sounds like so many others. And compared to the scripted-to-the-second presentation that Apple gave of its new products, the improvised banter at the end came as a surprise.

Cult of Mac was very harsh, saying that this performance was a swan song for iTunes, pointing out that no one buys music any more, yadda yadda. I disagree with that, but I do feel that U2 is on the other side of the generation gap that Apple is targeting with its new products. They could have chosen a band with a bit more cred with the younger generations.

The Wall Street Journal gives some background on the deal behind this free album. Pointing out how the band’s sales figures have been dropping – they sold 4 million the 2000 All That You Can Leave Behind, 3.3 million copies of their How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and only 1.1 million units of the 2009 release, No Line on the Horizon. It’s almost as if U2 would be embarrassed by the sales figures they’d realize with a new album, so making a deal around a free release has no downside for them.

The Wall Street Journal says:

“As part of the deal forged by the band, manager Guy Oseary (hired by U2 last year to replace longtime manager Paul McGuinness) and Universal, Apple also made plans to use the first single from the album, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” as a central element of a global, 30-day television advertising campaign for its new iPhones and Apple Watch. The campaign is believed to be worth around $100 million, according to a person familiar with the talks.”

That’s a lot of money. A lot more than they’d make from, say, fewer than a million copies of their new album. It’s telling that Bono told Cook that they had made a few albums since their last release in 2009, but “we just haven’t released them.” Maybe they were waiting for an opportunity like this, to make more money than they could possibly make by turning the entire album into an advertisement.