It’s imminent. Multiple outlets now report that Apple will announce new video streaming and news subscription services at a celebrity-studded event in Cupertino on March 25. BuzzFeed News cited anonymous sources who said the event would take place at Steve Jobs Theater and focus on the news service. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman corroborated that report and added that Apple’s long-rumored streaming video service would also be announced—and with the participation of several Hollywood A-listers to boot. So it sounds like no small affair.
If all this happens, Apple will suddenly be in a position to offer its hundreds of millions of users boundless quantities of music, videos, movies, TV shows, and news for a fee. Meanwhile, several reports over the past few months have claimed that Apple executives have discussed bundling these services together with iCloud, creating a new sort of Apple Prime subscription. That’s a bigger deal than you think.
We don’t yet know exactly how these new streaming services will work, and we certainly don’t know what a new Apple bundle might look like. The video streaming service will undoubtedly include a host of new Apple-produced content, which so far involves major entertainment names like J.J. Abrams, Jennifer Garner, Reese Witherspoon, and Jennifer Anniston—all of whom will reportedly attend next month’s event. The Wall Street Journal also reported that Apple signed a production partnership with Oprah Winfrey for the streaming video service.
News of all this star power is what’s led some to think that Apple’s Hollywood ambitions could turn the company into a formidable Netflix competitor. It’s unclear, however, what exactly Apple will offer in addition to its own programming. But when you consider that this new streaming service could instantly appear in the TV app on every iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV device in the world, it’s easy to see how Apple could win millions of new video customers overnight. There might even be a lengthy free trial.
The news piece of the equation is slightly more complicated. According to the latest reports, Apple will add a new “Magazines” tab in the Apple News app through a software update this spring. That tab will initially look a lot like the bundled magazine subscriptions available in the Texture app, which Apple acquired last year. Over time, some speculate, Apple wants to add content from more major publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post. However, Apple is having trouble getting these folks on board, if only because the publishers apparently hate the terms that Apple’s offering them. According to The Wall Street Journal, Apple wants to keep 50 percent of all the news subscriptions fees, and then distribute the other 50 percent to publishers based on how much traffic their stories receive. So, news companies might make a little money from Apple News but not as much as they would if everyone subscribed directly to their papers or magazines.
If either of these two new reported Apple offerings sound unremarkable on their own, the possibility that Apple could create its own version of Amazon Prime should feel utterly Earth-shaking. The Prime subscription service has been called “the foundation of Amazon’s success,” and as recently as a year ago, over 100 million people were paying $120 for the program’s benefits. Those include two-day shipping on Amazon purchases as well as a whole suite of other services like Amazon Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Reading, and unlimited storage with Amazon Photos. You could say that people come for the free shipping and stay for the bundle of streaming movies, TV shows, music, media, and storage.
The massive success of Amazon Prime is undeniable, but whatever Apple might be thinking about doing in terms of bundling services will be different. The iPhone maker probably isn’t about to become a direct competitor with all of Amazon’s businesses. There’s no evidence that Apple plans to open an online store that sells everything or buy a yuppie grocery store chain in the near future. However, it seems very feasible that you’ll soon be able to pay a monthly fee and enjoy iCloud, Apple Music, Apple News Plus (or whatever it’s called), and Apple TV Max (or whatever). You could probably even pay for the whole package with little resistance since Apple already has the credit card information of many users on file. And remember, because hundreds of the millions of iPhones, iPads, iPods, Watches, Macs, and Apple TV devices already out there in the world, the company can push a new bundle of services right in front of hundreds of millions of users.
These hundreds of millions of users are what makes the idea of Apple’s Prime-style offering especially compelling. We’ve already seen the powerful effect of Apple’s built-in user base with the meteoric success of Apple Music. “Meteoric” might sound like a strong word until you consider that Apple is consistently stealing market share from decade-old Spotify. Some say that the number of Apple Music subscribers has already surpassed the number of Spotify users in the United States. If those accounts are correct, that would mean that Apple surpassed the streaming music giant Spotify in just three years. While that would be an impressive feat by any measure, it’s worth remembering that Apple handily installed the Apple Music app on hundreds of millions of iOS devices and then pushed users to the new service with a three-month trial period and exclusive content from artists like Taylor Swift and Chance the Rapper. All users had to do was tap through a couple of screens.
Now imagine Apple does this with streaming video and news and iCloud all at once. While it’s so far unclear whether plans for bundled Apple services made it beyond boardroom discussions (much less what a bundled deal would cost), we can assume that Apple will make it very easy for its users to sign up for its new services. If the new services consumers quickly number in the millions, Apple will also gain more leverage when negotiating with movie and TV studios as well as publishers. Those raw deals that newspapers are apparently facing might start looking like money left on the table; readers that are paying for content but not paying The New York Times or The Washington Post for direct access. For Apple News specifically, you could imagine that some readers would rather spend their money on a whole bundle of services rather than a bunch of disparate publications.
This is all speculation for now, of course. Maybe Apple’s new video streaming service will suck. Apple’s first foray into original TV-style content was far from amazing. It’s possible that Apple’s tough deal-making with news publishers will yield few winning partners. The bundled services deal is also vague since Apple hasn’t yet confirmed that it’s happening and certainly hasn’t said how much it would cost or what it would include.
Think about it, though. If you’re an Apple fan who’s also spending money on Spotify, Netflix, magazine subscriptions, and a handful of other services, wouldn’t an all-in-one Apple Prime sort of thing seem pretty compelling? And what if you can try it all for free for a few months? What if you don’t even need an Apple device to enjoy some of these things? And you probably won’t since Apple just recently started installing its apps in TVs from companies like Samsung, Sony, and LG.
With flagging iPhone sales and a panic about the future of the company brewing, Apple really wants this new streaming business to work. Some might say it needs it to work. And as it is still one of the world’s richest and most powerful companies, Apple is certainly capable of creating major waves in new industries. So even if a big announcement about new streaming services doesn’t sound as exciting a big announcement about a new iPhone, we should expect a bombshell. It might take a while for the fuse to burn, but Apple’s big new business seems primed to explode.