Apple TV+ Announcement Raised More Questions Than It Answered

     March 25, 2019

I don’t know how many of you remember back to 2017 when HBO decided to melt a giant block of ice live on YouTube to announce the premiere date for Game of Thrones Season 7, but Apple’s launch event today was strongly reminiscent of it. Apple genuinely has some very solid ideas about how to change the game with streaming, mainly by putting everything in one place. Magazines, news, gaming, movies, and TV in one app is an enticing thought in a culture of cord-cutting. It’s worth noting that the new TV Channels app looks a lot like Netflix, but unlike that or a Roku or Fire TV, Apple’s interface will import all of your various subscriptions (like HBO or Showtime, and even select cable TV packages) into one queue that breaks out each individual show or movie so that it’s easy to return to and see what’s next, rather than hopping from app to app. You can even download the content to view offline.

Alongside this big reveal, Apple also announced the launch of its ad-free, premium subscription service called Apple TV+, which sounds a lot like Disney+ and of course looks like Netflix. There really wasn’t a corporate giant that Apple didn’t call out during its presentations, where it eventually (after almost two hours) showed a sizzle reel of the original programming it’s creating to rival those competitors.

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Image via Apple

The wait for that fabled footage is partially what reminded me of the live ice melting — which if you recall was a disaster at first because the ice didn’t actually melt, and HBO had to eventually bring in a host of flame throwers to fry it. But after all of that, we did actually get a premiere date. The same was not true with Apple. The sizzle reel ended with a vague “coming this fall,” but there was absolutely no discussion of pricing. The event started with the announcement that Apple will give you every magazine under the sun for $10 a month, so we’ll eventually see how much they value video content compared to that. But as nice and shiny and user-friendly as everything they showed today was, there is still absolutely no sense of what it’s going to cost.

The cost will likely not reflect the amount that Apple is pouring into it, though, which appears absolutely enormous. For the last part of the presentation, they trotted out actors and directors (and one singer, Sara Bareilles) to introduce some of their new series. Instead of also showing trailers followed by press releases with images or more information, we got informal discussions of several shows from Hollywood stars and directors — none of whom, by the way, are typically associated with TV. Steven Spielberg spoke about the Amazing Stories reboot; Steve Carell, Reese Witherspoon, and Jennifer Anniston were on hand to talk about The Morning Show; Kumail Nanjiani did what amounted to a short set to introduce his anthology series Little America; and even Big Bird showed up to rep a show called Helpsters, which will teach pre-schoolers how to code. The aforementioned Bareilles paired up with J.J. Abrams for Little Voices and sang the show’s theme song, while Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard led us on a curious sensory journey to prep for See. But it was hard to connect with anything until the sizzle reel was shown, where, in a big miscalculation, it was saved until the end (as of right now, it’s still not officially online). That was then followed by the advent of Oprah Winfrey, who is producing two documentaries for the new platform.

All of this is interesting, but it’s less interesting when each project was first announced because we still know almost nothing about any of them, nor when this is launching or — most crucially — for how much money. While Apple is clearly building up a robust library of original series with which to launch its service (at least, presumably), there’s still a question of who they might partner with to build up a back catalogue of older movies and TV shows. Although perhaps that’s not really a concern, since they are pushing the ability to import other content into their own platform from the start.

What was clear pretty early on in the presentation is that Apple did not make this ultimately snoozy event for the consumers, but for shareholders. It was full of videos and promises about what’s to come, but there wasn’t anything that felt tangible or exciting for the average TV watcher. Apple is entering the streaming market at a time when it is extremely saturated. Is there still room to change the game, or have they come too late? More exciting than their own series, frankly, is having one app that collects all of your other subscriptions in one place (though they name-checked Prime, Hulu, Showtime, Starz, etc, they did not acknowledge Netflix, whose interface — including the automatic playing of trailers — was clearly a direct “inspiration” for Apple TV+). Maybe Apple doesn’t need to dominate with its own shows to thrive. Maybe its innovation is to just convince us to let it be the home for everyone else’s.

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