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  • Apple and Original TV Programming — Not!

    October 11th, 2017

    Amid published reports that Apple is eyeing original TV programming, to compete with the likes of Amazon, Hulu and Netflix, it appears they may be close to inking a deal with a major Hollywood player.

    Before I read about the show that was being planned, I got to thinking about the original shows on some of those other services. Netflix is a key example of how a streaming service can deliver quality shows that can also win Emmys, or at least get people talking.

    I’m taking about such offerings as “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards.” Certainly the gritty Marvel Comics shows, such as “Daredevil,” have been acclaimed; well most of them anyway.

    Now Netflix is reportedly spending $6 billion this year, and $7 billion in 2018 for original programming. By comparison, Apple’s decision to spend $1 billion on such fare is little more than testing the waters. They’ve also hired former Sony Television executives to handle the production chores, so perhaps you should expect something highly entertaining and compelling, something way beyond that pathetic karaoke show that Apple recently produced.

    So what is Apple planning to do next?

    Well, there was that recent unconfirmed report that Apple was seeking to acquire Eon Productions, a UK-based film production company that is responsible for the James Bond films. It’s hard to believe it all began with “Dr. No” in 1962, a lifetime and several James Bond actors ago. The next unnamed Bond film is set for 2019, again starring Daniel Craig as 007.

    So far, there’s been no word of a new owner, so let’s set that aside one that may actually be true, since it comes from the Wall Street Journal, which often has the inside track on financial news.

    Now one irritating knack of TV producers is to bring back an old show, or do a TV version of a movie. This compares to the tendency of some movie producers to produce a film based on a TV show. So successful films include some “Star Trek” entrants, but such movies as “I Spy” were major flops.

    On the TV screen, “Rush Hour” didn’t fare so well without the original stars, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. A TV version of “Lethal Weapon” is in its second season, and the second incarnation of “Hawaii 5-0,” is now in its eighth season.

    So reboots sometimes they succeed, although I often wonder if the entertainment companies are just running out of ideas.

    So rather than do anything original, Apple is reportedly completing a deal with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television and NBCUniversal to revise a 1980s fantasy, horror and sci-fi anthology series, “Amazing Stories.” Even then, I didn’t regard it as terribly trendsetting, since it was reminiscent of such fare as “Outer Limits” and “Twilight Zone.” The title, by the way, is derived from a pulp sci-fi magazine that originally debuted in the late 1920s.

    So what’s coming to happen next, a TV version of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” or is any of that suited towards series treatment? I suppose they might consider “Independence Day,” as the Earth continues its ongoing battles against alien invaders, but why must all alien visitors be evil?

    Assuming the “Amazing Stories” deal goes through, it’s not known when it’ll debut, although it’ll reportedly involve 10 episodes budgeted at $5 million each, which is on the high side of what scripted one hour dramas usually cost. Well, perhaps it’ll give them the resources to do better special effects. Will the producers use Final Cut Pro X and other Apple apps to put it all together?

    I suppose it can be an excellent showpiece for Apple products.

    How it’ll be distributed is also the big question mark, since Apple doesn’t have a streaming TV service. I suppose episodes could be offered via iTunes, or perhaps Apple Music can become Apple Music and Video and serve as a showcase for such fare.

    While I have no doubt that Spielberg’s production company will deliver high quality shows, and I’m a huge fan of genre programming, I wonder whether Apple might have done better to consider something more original. Then again the sky’s the limit with an anthology, where lots of stories and casts can be featured.

    It might even be possible to consider a single episode as a possible pilot for its own series if the concept catches on. So maybe there is potential for an “Amazing Stories” reboot.

    But where does Apple go from there? There are reports about a show starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, and that may just be the beginning.

    To a company the size of Apple, a $1 billion investment is just an experiment. Original programming might, at first, be little more than a hobby unless one or more of the new shows catches on.

    But it’s a crowded environment out there when it comes to scripted dramas. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I don’t have the time to watch what’s available now. Except for the summer, when original offerings are slim, I wonder whether how many people will have the time to embrace yet another show.

    I won’t dismiss the possibilities, however, because this is Apple we’re talking about. And saying that Apple has absolutely no experience at producing original TV shows doesn’t wash. Apple finds a way, as hundreds of millions of owners of iPhones can attest.



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    2 Responses to “Apple and Original TV Programming — Not!”

    1. dfs says:

      If you have a successful company and you feel the urge to break into new areas, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Start by stepping back and looking at your operation. What strengths and what in-house expertise do you already have? Then ask yourself how you could leverage your present strengths to get into new areas. Besides being a great hardware/software outfit, for inst., you could say that Apple is a great industrial design shop, maybe the greatest that has ever existed. Okay, so this would qualify you, for inst., do enter into a deal with Boeing or the Air Force where you simplify the bewildering array of controls which confront pilots in their cockpits. See? You’ve already simplified the interface of things like desktop computers, MP3 devices and smart phones, so there’s some reason to expect you might be able to leverage what you’ve learned in order to simplify other forms of interface. That would be good, that would make sense. Your interface engineers can apply what they’ve already learned working on tech projects to snew areas. But going off in a wholly new direction would be something else entirely, you would be faced with the fact that you have zero in-house expertise upon which to build. And here’s the kicker (something I’ve encountered more than once in my own line of work): if you don’t already have the expertise to do the job, you’ll find that it’s damn hard to recruit people who can do it for you because you’re you’re not qualified to evaluate your job candidates. So it’s inevitable you are going to make some bad choices and find you have on your hands some guys who are real liabilities and who are making your move into your new market even more difficult than it otherwise would be.

      Here’s another thing. Besides industrial design per se, the more specific thing Apple has always been good at is picking some kind of product that contains the germ of a great product but is severely hampered by its lousy implementation (including, most of the time, a rotten interface) and honing it until it lives up to its promise. That’s what they did with things like cell phones and MP3 players. Part of this formula is being the first to get a decent kind of that product to that market (and then enjoying a lengthy period of a de facto monopoly until the competition can catch up). This is what Apple does best. Moving into an already-established market where some quite decent products are already available is an entirely different thing and doesn’t fit with the Apple success formula. Take, for inst, the HomePod. Apple’s going to have a hell of a time with that one because the market is already flooded with pretty good (and a lot cheaper) smart speakers. To be successful, Apple is going to have to figure out something novel enough and desirable enough to set it apart from the herd, and bring it out at a price with is at least halfway competitive. Everything I have read about the HomePod suggests to me that so far Apple hasn’t done much to meet that challenge, and that’s because this is is a challenge which Apple’s corporate culture is not accustomed to handling.

      My own nomination: telephones. Maintaining existing landlines is becoming a huge losing proposition for the carriers, and they are going to pull the plug on the whole technology a lot sooner than most folks imagine. Now, in a lot of ways mobile phones are great and can take up the slack, but mobile phones have one major weakness: you can only assign a given telephone number to a single mobile device (I’m not sure whether this is for a technical reason that keeps you from popping SIM cards with the same number in multiple phones or just because that’s how ATT and the other carriers have chosen to set up their billing structures. No matter: for the end user the result is the same: for some households and some business and other organizations, it is desirable or even necessary to have one telephone per household/business. So every such household/business is going to need some sort of centralized gizmo that receives/stores/distributes/records incoming phone calls and has some kind of centralized library of stored phone nrs. to accommodate outgoing ones.

      At the same time, there is a crying need for better and more sophisticated telephony software that can handle multiple mobile platforms (iOS, Android etc.). The only one of this kind currently available is the very complex Phone Amego which probably bewilders a lot of newbies (Apple’s own FaceTime only works with iPhone, is stone-age crude, and its telephony component looks like a hasty afterthought casually slapped onto what’s basically a teleconferencing app.)

      Here’s the sort of thing Apple is usually good at, the sort of thing Steve Jobs used to be very very good at: look down the road, see what the world’s going to need five years in the future, give it a great interface, one that makes a lot of complex behind-the-scenes stuff clean, simple and enjoyable for the end user, be the first to get it to market, enjoy a monopoly for a year or more until the competition brings out some lameass equivalent that will only be about three-quarters as good anyway. Do it by leveraging the corporate knowhow you already have, and using the qualified people you already have, rather than taking a total shot in the dark by getting involved in media content production, building your own line of automobiles, or any other crazy stuff about which you know approximately zero.

      • dfs says:

        I should have added that one of the great corporate disasters of modern times happened when the Disney Corp. constructed the following false syllogism: “We know a lot about how to entertain people : people find professional hockey entertaining :: therefore we are qualified to own and operate a NHL franchise.” So they bought the Anaheim Ducks and the result was a particularly dismal chapter in sports history. Seems to me that some of the current thinking up at Cupertino works along approximately the same lines. If this is the real difference between Tim’s thinking and Steve’s, then I cringe for Apple’s future.

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