Some Thoughts on Apple TV+

I find it interesting to see how many websites that cover Apple’s products – computers, phones, etc. – now also present TV series criticism. Don’t get me wrong; I have many colleagues who skillfully review books, movies, and TV series in addition to writing about technology. But the fact that Apple has now launched its streaming service means that many websites will spend a lot of time writing about these new series; at least when there’s no other news to cover.

I’m not going to do that. While I do review culture on this site – books, music, theater, etc. – I’m not going to write about Apple’s TV series just because they are coming from Apple. I will, however, give some first impressions of Apple TV+ as a service.

Of the half dozen series available at launch, there are only two that interest me: The Morning Show and For All Mankind, both of which are available with three episodes at launch. The former is a mish-mash of of Aaron Sorkinisms and A Star is Born, and I find it interesting to see a mixture of rave reviews and take-downs (five stars from The Guardian; two stars from the BBC), which is generally quite rare with a TV series. It makes one wonder if the journalists writing about these series have some sort of agenda that goes beyond television. For example, the BBC’s Will Gompertz takes nearly 300 words of his 1,500-word review to discuss Apple and its failures in his review of the series, and says things such as:

The opening episode is as bad as anything I’ve seen since we entered this golden age of telly, which, arguably, started in 1994 with Friends (still the most popular show on Netflix).

The other series that I’ve watched is For All Mankind, an interesting alternate history about the space program. In both cases, I won’t give my opinion, because better critics than I will be writing about these series, but it’s the latter that I will follow as new episodes become available.

However, I would like to opine a bit on the Apple TV+ service itself. With a free one-year subscription, because of my recent purchase of a new iPhone, I’m willing to check out some of these offerings, but is this service worth $5 a month to anyone? With no back catalog, and only a limited number of offerings – and, so far, only TV series; no movies – it seems absurd to pay that price. Yes, I know, it’s the same as a cup of coffee, yadda yadda, but with the increased subscription fatigue, and too much to watch already (and with my partner and I both being people who greatly prefer books to TV and movies), there’s little incentive to want to pay for such an offer. Even by the end of the year, how many series can there be, and how much can one expect to see on Apple TV+? Unless Apple licenses some big swathe of back catalog content, Apple TV+ will never rival Netflix, Hulu, or even Amazon (whose Prime Video is available as a part of their broader Prime subscription, which I pay for anyway to get next-day delivery to my rural home). Apple TV+ will not be a destination if you are just looking for something to watch; it will only be there if you want to try out a specific new series or are already following one or more series.

Apple could be playing the long game, investing in prestigious actors and directors to create content that they might be able to monetize later, through rentals and sales in the iTunes Store, or even DVD/Blu-Ray releases. But at $15 million an episode for The Morning Show – with two seasons planned – they’ve put $300 million into a vanity project. All told, it seems that Apple has earmarked $6 billion for content for this service, though it’s not clear how many years this budget will cover, so the company is clearly betting big on this content.

Like any streaming service that produces original content, there will be a few series that stand out, a lot of duds, and some that float a bit above the tide of mediocrity. Perhaps Apple has attracted enough creators to do better than average; or perhaps many of the creators will just be blinded by bigger budgets and end up making a mess of their series. It’s a crap shoot in this business.

Apple is clearly hoping to expand further into content creation as part of their push to increase the company’s services revenue, which was $12.5 billion in the company’s latest reported quarter. Apple is remaking itself, to not depend so much on one or two products, and services are now 20% of the company’s income.

But the risk is that in throwing money at TV series – and potentially movies as well – that their content is no better than that of any other service, without any clear differentiation between Apple TV+ and any premium cable channel. Will they succeed? Who knows; I certainly don’t. And don’t listen to anyone who thinks they can predict how all this is going to turn out.

6 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Apple TV+

  1. I for one, am playing tv services roulette with all them, a few months on amazon (until they show the next Mrs Meisle season), then a few months on Netflix, then by the time  +, have broadcast all their « For All Mankind » episodes, I’ll be binging that. And on and on. Patience is a virtue and you don’t have to see everything NOW. And yes, I don’t understand why people invest their money into such a flaky business, it’s like the restaurant business, only a small percentage survive the first year. But I guess they got money to burn. And it’s probably a tax scheme. Hopefully some good tv will come out of it.

  2. Well stated Kirk. Even the seasoned tv and movie critics can only offer their opinions of quality story telling. Everyone sees and reacts to visual content differently. I pay no attention to a single critics opinion, although I do find value in crowd-sourced aggregated reviews as I think there is truth in numbers.

  3. As you know, I am often bemused by tech journalists who suddenly become experts about a subject just because it happens on their computers.

  4. Kirk, I agree with everything you said here. It always amazes me that people flock to the newest avenue in whatever medium or product just because it’s new and they want to be the first at work to discuss it with their in-crowd. But my take in seeing Apple go this route with a streaming service is that they could’ve done something different than the others, like maybe offering a show (or even a series of shows) about the tech industry through Apple’s eyes. I don’t know how they’d do it without revealing too much about their planned products for the foreseeable future, but presented well enough, they’d draw millions to watch and learn.

    • They tried that, sort of, with Planet of the Apps on Apple Music. I never watched it, but pretty much everyone thought it was horrid.

      While I get your point, however, I’m not sure that that’s where Apple wants to go, at least early on. I could imagine in a second phase, when they need to really expand their content, that they start adding more documentaries, including, perhaps, shows about Apple. But that would look, to a lot of people, like self-promotion.

  5. What strikes me about Apple TV+ is that not only is Apple unlikely to differentiate itself as a video streaming service, because of the nature of the beast, but that there is no synergy between this service and the rest of the Apple ecosystem. Someone who really likes the service and watches it on a Samsung TV would have no motivation to buy an iDevice or an Apple TV, or to try another Apple service, with maybe the exception of – and it’s a stretch – Apple Music.

    Conversely, if you have an Apple TV and loads of other Apple hardware, there’s no special motivation to get Apple TV+ over other streaming services. Apple TV+ will be judged on content alone.

    Essentially, Apple is getting into a business that has little relationship with any of its current businesses. As you say, they may well succeed, but one could make a case that they are getting distracted from their core business (cough, cough – iOS 13). Where will they be in a few years if they have too much Oprah and not enough OS?

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