Apple's Big Original TV Model Follows Not-So-Original Playbook

Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had envisioned a revolution of the TV business. What was unveiled Monday fell well short of that mark.

Delivering a presentation Monday at its Cupertino, CA headquarters that was, as predicted, full of star power, but very light on surprises, Apple finally revealed the framework of a video strategy intended to get it back in contention for the future of the TV business.

The business models, and the names used to describe them, were all remarkably familiar.

The strategy starts with a major expansion of the Apple TV app, which will now be available across Apple devices—Mac computers, too, starting in the fall—and will also be extended to smart TVs, as well as Roku and Apple Fire OTT devices.

With the upgrade debuting in May, the Apple TV app will house two major programming additions.

Apple TV Channels is exactly what it sounds like — Apple’s version of the very innovative Amazon Channels a la carte subscription video service.

Within Apple TV Channels, users will be able to subscribe to SVOD services including Hulu and Amazon Prime Video (but not Netflix), and pay and access these services in one centralized place. SVOD platforms from premium programming services including HBO, Showtime and Starz will be available via Apple TV.

Notably, Apple TV Channels users can integrate linear pay TV services from Charter, DirecTV and Altice USA, as well as virtual services Hulu+ Live TV, Sony PlayStation Vue and fuboTV.

As mentioned, Monday’s press event from the Steve Jobs Theater also featured every big-name star signed onto Apple TV+, the not-so-original name given to the company’s new subscription originals platform.

Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, J.J. Abrams, Steve Carell, Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon were all on hand to present their shows, which will be part of a new subscription programming service, delivered entirely ad-free with downloads enabled, available in more than 130 countries.

“The Apple platform allows me to do what I do in a new way,” said Winfrey, while also touting her primary reason for working with Apple: “Because’ they’re in a billion pockets, y’all!”

Notably, Apple didn’t announce pricing for Apple TV+, or release dates for any of the series it showcased Monday.

With Apple seeing global saturation for its last mega-hit consumer product, the iPhone, the company is pivoting to services. CEO Tim Cook on Monday kicked off the session, noting that for decades, “Apple has been creating world-class hardware and world-class software. We’ve also been creating a collection of world-class services. and that’s what today is all about.”

Apple, which generated $37 billion in revenue off services in 2018, wants to bring that figure up to $50 billion this year.

On Monday, it also introduced an expanded app-based subscription news aggregation service—Apple News+ will now include articles from more than 300 magazines—as well as a new credit card designed to work in the Apple Pay digital wallet. And also applying the “Spotify” model to video games in addition to news, the company unveiled the new Apple Arcade app.

But the big story was TV.

Launched two years ago, the Apple TV app represents Apple’s attempt to funnel the video business’ vast collection of TV apps into one centralized hub of aggregation and AI-infused recommendation.

The app had previously been consigned to iPhone and iPad, as well as Apple TV OTT devices. It’ll now be integrated into the operating systems of Samsung, Sony, LG and Vizio smart TVs, starting with new Samsung models in May. The app will also join the Roku and Amazon Fire digital ecosystems, which represents somewhat of a concession of the streaming box and stick business as far as Apple TV is concerned.

As for the originals presentation, it was led by Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, the two former Sony Pictures TV executives leading Apple’s originals production engine out of Culver City, California.

Shows will include an adaptation of the 93-year-old “Amazing Stories” science fiction anthology brand from Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. Speaking during Monday’s webcasted event, Spielberg recalled his father reading “Amazing Stories” to him as a boy while promising the series will “transport” modern digital audiences with each episode.

Aniston, Witherspoon and Carell, meanwhile, were on hand to present “The Morning Show,” which will parody the caffeinated talent behind network morning shows. Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard debuted a post-post-apocalyptic drama about a future in which the descendants of modern human survivors fight for a world devoid of eye sight. And Winfrey will lend her name to what she calls the world’s biggest book club.

“We love TV,” Cook exclaimed. “It’s more than entertainment. It’s culture.” 

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!