Does Apple TV+ Need to Be Good?

Photo: Tony Avelar (AP)

With Apple’s annual September event this year, we finally have answers around what its Netflix streaming contender will look like at launch: sparse in offerings and incredibly cheap—if not altogether free. But before we write it off entirely, Apple’s TV+ foray into streaming may be smarter than it reads at first blush. In fact, this may be one of the rare occasions that Apple is being realistic about what it can feasibly pull off as it muscles its way into the streaming fray.

To recap: Apple TV+ will become available November 1 for a mere $5, making its subscription price point one of the lowest in the game. Apple’s streaming service will be ad-free and will comprise all original content. But unlike Netflix, according to Apple exec Eddy Cue, Apple is focused on “creating the best” content rather than the most. And being that Apple is just now introducing a competitor to streaming giants that have been around for years, that means Apple has some catching up to do.

But that’s a tricky position to be in, by Apple’s own standards. Apple is launching with just a handful of originals when it officially releases in less than two months. Apple TV+ will offer a seven-day free trial before charging $5 per month for a relatively bare-bones lineup of possibly good, but also potentially meh series—at least if those “expensive NBC” rumors are to be believed.

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But Apple also has the star power and the mountains of money to throw at this thing to make it better over time (throwing money at the content problem has been Netflix’s solution for the last few years too). So, then—assuming it will be worth that $5 at launch or sometime thereafter—convincing people to sign on is really its biggest hurdle.

During Thursday’s event, the company announced that in addition to the seven-day free trial (presumably just enough time to taste test some of its content but not consume it all at once), Apple will give folks who buy any Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac a year of Apple TV+ for the low, low price of free. What that means is that Apple is essentially hanging a content carrot in front of its future subscribers while it refines its product, produces more content, and—if all goes according to plan—firmly establishes itself as a worthy contender to the old guard streaming titans like HBO Go and Netflix.

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As CNBC’s Steve Kovach noted, Apple TV+ users who are getting a free ride this year might be more enticed to cough up the monthly subscription cost as Apple continues to build out its content roster. And Apple’s already booming consumer base and sweet one-year freebie sets the company up to establish subscribers in the millions right out of the gate, even as it works to beef up its library. (Apple says it will add more originals every month.)

Ultimately, it’s tough to say whether its very, very small lineup of series at launch will justify a monthly subscription fee this early on. Plus, the service has been dogged by rumors that it’s bland, sexless, and inoffensive for nearly a year now. But, at the same time, most users pay double or even triple that price for a subscription to Netflix, which is not exactly killing it on the originals front.

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Given the fact that it costs the price of a latte at present, and considering many of us will likely be getting a year of it for free anyway, maybe it’s worth seeing what Apple TV+ can do. God knows we all pay to consume all the other trash anyway.

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