Apple TV Plus Has Less than 20 Million Subscribers, Tech Giant Tells Hollywood Union

Ted Lasso on Apple TV Plus
(Image credit: Apple TV+)

In the midst of contentious contract negotiations between the major Hollywood union representing behind-the-scenes crews in film and TV productions and producers, the union revealed that as recently as July, Apple claimed that it had less than 20 million subscribers to its Apple TV Plus streaming service in the U.S. and Canada. 

The disclosure made by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) was first reported by CNBC

Since launching its subscription streaming service in November 2019, Apple hasn’t revealed subscriber metrics for Apple TV Plus. With Apple giving away access to the $4.99-a-month SVOD away to those who bought iPhones and other Apple gadgets for the first 20 months of Apple TV Plus’ existence, several well-regarded research firms have pegged Apple TV Plus at around 40 million subscribers, many of them on promotion. 

So a figure of 20 million would be considered low. 

However, at that level, Apple was able to pay lower rates than larger streaming services (and the major studios) for everything from costume designers and makeup artists, to camera operators and production designers. A union spokesperson told CNBC that NBCUniversal’s Peacock and ViacomCBS’ Paramount Plus also fall under the 20-million subscriber threshold.

It’s unclear if sub 20 million number includes only users who are paying for the Apple TV Plus service, and not the millions who are still on promotion.

In July, Apple scaled back its free trials from one year to three months for customers who purchase a new iPhone or other eligible gadget. 

The current contract between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and IATSE was negotiated in 2009 at a time when streaming media was seen as a nascent business model with an uncertain future. Streaming companies enjoy reduced labor rates compared to film and television productions. However, the union is looking to eliminate those discounts in its current negotiations. 

The union argues that streaming has certainly established itself as a profitable business now and can afford to pay more. 

“Workers on certain ‘new media’ streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters,” IATSE said in recent press release. 

Union members are frustrated with the idea of working at reduced rates for a company like Apple, with a market capitalization that peaked at almost $2.5 trillion in August, especially with the streaming service taking home 10 Emmy awards earlier this month. 

The union is also objecting to “excessively unsafe and harmful working hours, unlivable wages for the lowest paid crafts and consistent failure to provide reasonable rest during meal breaks, between workdays, and on weekends,” according to a press release issued by IATSE last week. 

“These issues are real for the workers in our industry, and change is long overdue. However, the explosion of streaming combined with the pandemic has elevated and aggravated working conditions, bringing 60,000 behind-the-scenes workers covered by these contracts to a breaking point,” IATSE added. We risked our health and safety all year, working through the Pandemic to ensure that our business emerged intact. Now, we cannot and will not accept a deal that leaves us with an unsustainable outcome.”

Next TV reported last week that the union has set a strike-authorization vote for Oct. 1 and that it is considered likely to pass, however, that won’t automatically trigger a walkout. 

Scott Lehane

Freelancer Scott Lehane has been covering the film and TV industry for almost 30 years from his base in southern Ontario, near Toronto. Along with several Future plc-owned publications, he has written extensively for Below the Line, CinemaEditor, Animation World, Film & Video and DTV Business in the U.S., as well as The IBC Daily, Showreel and British Cinematographer in the U.K. and Encore and Broadcast Engineering News in Australia, to name few. He currently edits Future’s Next TV, B+C and Multichannel News daily SmartBriefs. He spends his free time in the metaverse, waiting for everyone else to show up.