Apple and the Streaming Dilemma

March 20th, 2018

Regardless of the choices with cable and satellite TV, or whether you’ve cut the cord, some 55% of American households have subscribed to one or more streaming services. Most of those people have settled on Netflix, but others have chosen Amazon Prime or Hulu. There are loads of lesser players that may or may not be worth your consideration.

If you’re a Star Trek fan, maybe you’ve tried CBS All Access, but was it worth it? The regular CBS fare is available on free TV, and, for most, “Star Trek: Discovery” is the major attraction of the streaming service, which is available for $5.99 with limited commercial interruptions and $9.99 ad-free. Maybe that’s enough to cover the production costs of the show, but I wonder about the long-term success of the venture, unless other shows gain traction. That spinoff of “The Good Wife” probably isn’t enough, although I was a fan of the original.

A major factor that sells such services, and has made Netflix the most popular streaming service on Earth, is the wealth of exclusive content. Originally Netflix rented videos. You’d subscribe to a given number of rentals at the same time, and as they were returned, you’d get replacements from your wish list. When they went to streaming, it was mostly about old movies and TV shows.

In 2013, “House of Cards” helped change the equation. That and “Orange is the New Black” heralded a new generation of high-profile scripted dramas, with A-list performers and loads of Emmy nominations. These days, Netflix has dozens of shows plus original movies to attract and retain an audience.

So as it stands, even before Apple enters the picture, there are a number of services that’ll only be delighted to sign you up at various prices. Indeed, there are so many that you might find yourself paying more than you did when you were customers of cable or satellite.

That takes us to Apple.

Since so many people have subscribed to these services, one assumes that there’s plenty of room for one more. On the other hand, there has to be a point where there are just too many services and people are going to resist new entrants.

Then there’s Apple’s expected entry into original TV programming, and it’s presumed to have a good chance for success based on some assumptions. But let’s explore those assumptions and see if the are credible.

So, it’s assumed that such a service might be exclusive to Apple TV, which has millions of users to be sure, but it reportedly had only a tad more than 21 million users as of last summer. That accounts for a market share of roughly 12%, and restricting content to that number hardly makes sense with Apple reportedly spending over a billion dollars for original programming.

It probably doesn’t make lot of sense to establish a separate streaming service and infrastructure for a small number of original shows. Would people be willing to pay $5.99 or $9.99 a month for that? At least with CBS All Access, there is a large repertoire of older content available, such as “NCIS” and “CSI.”

That’s two strikes against Apple so far.

But Apple is very serious about it’s plans. Eddy Cue, who is responsible for such matters, says the company is “all in” on original content. Compared to Netflix, he says, “we’re not after quantity, we’re after quality.”

Of the shows mentioned by the media so far, it’s a mixed bag. There’s a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s fantasy/horror/sci-fi anthology, “Amazing Stories,” which only lasted two seasons during its original incarnation in the 1980s. Why that might do better now is anyone’s guess, though I suppose Apple could be throwing Spielberg a bone in anticipation of better properties going forward.

There’s also a scripted drama about morning TV from Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. Although both are credible performers (Witherspoon is an Oscar winner) the concept leaves me cold. Do people really care about such fare? Do Aniston and Witherspoon have the clout to attract a sizable audience for such a lame concept?

I’m not a TV programmer, but I have yet to find anyone who’s anxious to see that show.

One possibility so far is a program from Ronald D. Moore, well known for his work on various Star Trek shows and the award-winning “Battlestar Galactica” reboot.

At one time, Apple was rumored to be developing a streaming service with more inclusive content, but reportedly failed to strike deals with the entertainment companies. The usual excuse was that Apple made demands that were too stringent, but that’s just repeating a common meme rather than citing facts.

One possibility is that Apple will add these shows to the Apple Music repertoire, something they’ve already done with such silly shows as Carpool Karaoke. But it would help deliver more exclusive features to expand the subscriber base against such competitors as Spotify, which remains the number one streaming music service.

Or maybe change it to Apple Music and TV to further differentiate itself from the pack.

It makes sense to me. Setting up an Apple TV-only app or a full-blown streaming service doesn’t.

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3 Responses to “Apple and the Streaming Dilemma”

  1. dfs says:

    There’s another point to be made. Apple is a company notorious for giving its customers what it thinks they ought to have, rather than asking them what they want. Market research, in other words, is not and never has been Apple’s strong point. Apple (obviously) has a large and loyal user base, but I can’t help wondering how clear an idea Apple has of what sort of people make up that base (well, obviously, it knows about its appeal to the teenie-weenie set, on the basis of so many Apple Stores functioning as neighborhood Teen Canteens, and has given the kiddiewinks a tip of the hat by bringing out a legion of e-mojis,but surely the base is more varied and complex than that).

    I mention this because when I read Gene’s piece and see the proposed shows he mentions I am not getting a very clear picture of exactly what demographics they are supposed to be aimed at. Shouldn’t their programming be set up with those some particular demographics in mind? Who exactly does Apple expect will constitute the bulk of its subscribers? They need to figure this out and make a special effort to offer the sort of stuff this crowd wants to see. This all seems quite murky, as if some very clear thinking, followed by some very clear strategizing, is in order. This is one situation in which Apple’s traditional habit giving its customers what it thinks they ought to have could turn out to be a formula for disaster.

  2. David Kaplan says:

    If you are reading this, and enjoying it, you should really read the special notice to readers that Gene posted.

    Then, please donate.

    Thank you,


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