Are you an avid or even casual viewer of TV content? You may have noticed over the past year that dominance of the TV world has shifted quickly from the executive boardrooms of major networks like ABC, CBS, and NBC to streaming services like Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix.
These streaming services upped the ante by creating critically-acclaimed original content exclusive to their platforms. Now every major studio, network, social media company, and even telecommunication companies like AT&T are creating their own video streaming services.
Apple has been observing the TV battles from afar with jealous eyes, so they promptly put down $1 billion to launch their own TV video streaming service. Apple has aggressively pursued big-name deals with stars like Reese Witherspoon, Steven Spielberg, Dr. Dre, and Oprah Winfrey to pad their content.
The problem is Apple doesn’t have any place for viewers to watch these shows yet.
It’s fairly certain that Apple will create a well-designed videos streaming service, but a big question remains: Will Apple’s strict branding get in the way of their streaming platform’s success?
Apple always has a keen eye for maintaining their branding across their products. When it comes to their new TV service, Apple has been just as meticulous.
But will this single-minded commitment to branding limit their new service’s accessibility? There are two ways to analyze this: their content decisions and their hardware ecosystem.
First, let’s take a look at the content Apple is creating for their new TV platform. Apple reportedly won’t allow nudity or violence in its TV shows. Their focus will be on shows similar to NBC’s This Is Us and comedies like Parks and Recreation.
Apple’s conservative approach is bucking the current trend among streaming giants like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and HBO. They have fully embraced edgier, more explicit content in order to push the boundaries of the TV medium. Shows like Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and HBO’s Game of Thrones have all pushed these limits and won awards while doing so.
Apple’s first attempt at scripted drama was Vital Signs, a dark, semi-autobiographical depiction of rapper Dr. Dre’s life. It included scenes with drug use, sexually explicit content, and gun violence. The Wall Street Journal reported that the show was ultimately cancelled after Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, watched the show and claimed it was “too violent” for Apple’s TV platform.
Apple is in a unique situation compared to other streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, or HBO. A mostly online company like Netflix can push forward controversial content and withstand a boycott or lose subscribers without threatening its business model. Apple is a hardware and software company, so a boycott could be far more damaging to their bottom line.
Therefore, Apple needs to remain as uncontroversial as possible with their content. It’s why Apple has always been aggressive about removing explicit apps from its App Store.
Streaming services have created more family-friendly content as well. Yes, Apple’s decision to avoid “gratuitous sex, profanity or violence” and focus on more wholesome content paints them in a corner creatively. Not every show has to have explicit content in order to be considered good or award-worthy, but high-quality content with adult themes is precisely what’s driving the success of other streaming services. Many in the TV and film industry consider Apple’s content so bland that they are labeling them “expensive NBC.”
A counterpoint to this argument might be Disney’s soon-to-be-launched streaming service. They primarily focus on family-friendly entertainment and stress a strict design code that guides the type of movie they create.
However, Disney also has decades worth of intellectual property and consistent money makers like Marvel and Star Wars to populate their new streaming service. Apple has to create everything, from the content to the streaming service, from scratch.
Disney’s purchase of 21st Century Fox means it will own over half the domestic movie market share in 2018. It isn’t a matter of will people use Disney’s new streaming service, but when.
Apple’s Design Ecosystem
Another potential glitch with Apple’s TV content plans is that service may only be available through Apple devices. Apple’s need to keep their design the same across multiple platforms means they have invested heavily in creating their own hardware and software ecosystem. Your Apple iPhone can connect easily to a myriad of Apple devices like the MacBook or the Apple TV, but what if you can only watch Apple’s new TV content offerings on Apple devices?
This would be a mistake, to say the least. If Apple wants to compete with the likes of Netflix, they need to become just as accessible as other streaming services. Some TV executives recently revealed that Apple plans to separate its TV content from other subscription services like Apple Music. Their first foray into streaming with shows like Planet of the Apps was poorly received and only available through Apple Music.
What should Apple do then? Apple should make their TV streaming service a standalone app, similar to how HBO started offering HBO Now for cable cord cutters. If Apple is willing to forgo their ecosystem cohesiveness, then they could make a much bigger play for the TV streaming viewership.
An Android user who is staunchly against using Apple products may find a new show on Apple’s TV service they’re dying to watch. Just like Apple Music, the Apple TV service app could be available in Google Play, and the Android user could still watch their show without sacrificing their anti-Apple morals.
Too Much Meddling
Apple’s design philosophy, while prudent and visionary in its approach to the App Store and hardware development, could be a huge obstacle to Apple’s video streaming success. Every show requires the rubber stamp of approval from Tim Cook himself. Every show has to conform to a nebulous set of sensibilities that appeals to a common denominator.
Part of Netflix’s success was its ability to create content once only found on premium cable channels and present it to a wider audience. Apple, meanwhile, continues to meddle with their content, saying Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories was “too dark” and that Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston’s untitled show about a morning news program wasn’t “upbeat enough” and had inappropriate humor.
The truth is not every new Netflix copycat will make it. Only time will tell if Apple’s service will be a success or a flop.
Bundling its video streaming service with its other subscription services could be a huge incentive for people to give the new service a try. If Apple can loosen the reigns on their branding efforts, they may find success and become a dominant force in the TV video streaming industry.