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Does Apple TV+ Need to Be Good?

Illustration for article titled 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.

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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.

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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DISCUSSION

I think the “bland, sexless, and inoffensive” will keep a lot of ostensible Apple loyalists from caring. I’m one of those people who bought his first Mac in 1984 and have generally bought Macs and other Apple products ever since. To be sure, I have a Windows laptop sitting here beside my MacBook Pro, and have owned Android phones, but in general I’d say I’m right in the Apple sweet spot. And yet I know I won’t be signing up even for the 7-day trial.

Maybe when I buy my next device (assuming it’s an Apple product) and I get that magic year free I’ll give it a go, but I’m already feeling dragged in too many directions and starting to wonder if IP-powered streaming services are worth it, even if “free.”

Apple’s giant barrels of money will give them staying power in this space, and maybe that’s the key to eventual success as you suggest. And maybe they won’t be bland after all, though Tim Cook’s commitment to soft-focus social engineering seems unlikely to die. Still, for this mostly Apple guy boring Apple TV+ shit looks boring, and once an idea like that settles in Apple is going to have a hard time dislodging it.