Will Apple’s Hands-On Creative Approach Turn it into ‘Expensive NBC’?

While digital rivals Netflix and Amazon have built powerful entertainment divisions by courting A-list creative talent not only with huge paychecks, but also creative freedom, Apple is said to be getting into the streaming originals game with a much more hands-on approach.

As detailed by The Wall Street Journal, as it develops around two-dozen original shows for a launch payload that will begin to surface in earnest next year, the company’s top management is working to limit the amount of explicit sex and violence that shows up in its content.

The broad-skew creative bent has reportedly caused some Apple executives involved with the company’s originals push to label the company, “Expensive NBC.”

Related: Apple Building Marketing Team for Original Series Launch

According to WSJ, this was highlighted by Apple CEO Tim Cook personally telling the company’s top music executive, Jimmy Iovine, that Vital Signs, a semi-biographical series based on hip hop artist Dr. Dre, had too much edge for Apple.

Top Apple management is said to have intervened with several other shows produced through Iovine’s music division, including Carpool Karaoke and Planet of the Apes.

And notably, former Sony Pictures Television executives Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht—who were brought into Apple after shepherding such edgy, brand-building shows as AMC’s Breaking Bad—have been reportedly influenced to tone down the level of freedom promised to creatives.

Among other steps listed by WSJ, Apple is also said to have replaced the show runner on the Stephen Spielberg-produced Amazing Stories because his early vision for the show was too dark.

Apple is exerting tight creative control as the number of original shows across broadcast, cable and digital platforms has skyrocketed to 487 from just 187 in 2010.

Apple’s motivation, according to analysts, is rooted in its business model.

Subscription video on demand services like Netflix might lose customers if they find content to be offensive or inappropriate. “With Apple, you can say, ‘I’m going to punish them by not buying their phone or computer,’” said Preston Beckman, a former NBC and Fox programming executive, to WSJ.

The question, of course, is, can Apple stand out among 487 originals with a programming brand that might appear bland to some? The whole originals as brand builders strategy is largely perceived to have began with HBO’s The Sopranos and Sex and the City, continuing through to the premium cable network’s digital transition with the even more ultra-violent Game of Thrones.

FX, meanwhile, carved out a presence with gritty shows like The Shield and Sons of Anarchy, while AMC put itself on the map with crystal-meth-fueled drama Breaking Bad.

In SVOD, Netflix became a presence with political drama House of Cards and women’s prison show Orange Is the New Black, while transgender-themed Transparent build Amazon Prime Video into a force.

Meanwhile, as top producing talent attracts deals valued as high as $300 million, and continually raves about the creative freedom they enjoy at outlets like Netflix, Apple seemingly has a bit of a recruiting issue.

Of course, Apple’s market cap now stands at $1.062 trillion, making it perhaps the one company on earth that Netflix can’t outspend. 

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!