This super creepy Tom Waits number pops into my head every time I read about another Apple content acquisition. For a billion-dollar project from one of the world’s biggest companies, the company’s upcoming streaming service is shaping up to be a strange collection of original content.
Of course, I’m not really sure what I expected after Apple unleashed Carpool Karaoke and Planet of the Apps on the world. Neither were the kind of thing that imbues you with confidence in a company’s programming choices.
I wrote a review of sorts of the former here, but was willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt that it just wasn’t for me, like cilantro, cats or late-era Radiohead. But clearly I wasn’t alone on this one. And Planet of the Apps — the less said about that one the better, probably. Neither particularly jibe with Eddy Cue’s whole, “We’re not after quantity, we’re after quality” spiel.
Announcements have picked up considerably, even in the few months following that appearance at SXSW, but Apple’s got a lot of catching up to do against content juggernauts like Netflix, Hulu and even Amazon. Of course, the company’s got a long, proud history of showing up a bit late to the party and still blowing the competition out of the water in the hardware space.
And while Apple Music is still far from overtaking Spotify, the music streaming service has been adding subscribers at a steady clip, courtesy of, among other things, being built directly into the company’s software offerings — a fringe benefit that Apple’s eventual video streaming service will no doubt share. It’s true, of course, that users are more likely to subscribe to multiple video streaming services than music ones, but the company’s going to have to offer more than ecosystem accessibility. At this point, however, it’s hard not to side with Fox CEO James Murdoch’s comments on the matter from earlier today.
“Going piece by piece, one by one, show by show, etc., is gonna take a long time to really move the dial and having something mega,” the exec told a crowd at the Code Conference. “I do think that’s gonna be very challenging.”
And this first round of programming is a bit of a mixed bag. Among the current crop of offerings, Amazing Stories feels like close to a slam dunk, because if the combination of Spielberg and nostalgia can make Ready Player One a box office success story, then, well, surely it can work on anything, right?
Perhaps it’s the dribs and drabs with which the company has been revealing its content play over a matter of months. When Apple wanted to launch a streaming music service, the company went ahead and bought Beats in 2014. Sure, the headphone business was a nice bonus, but it was pretty clear from the outset that Beats Music was the real meat of that deal. A year later, Apple Music was unleashed on the world.
The latest rumors have the company’s video streaming service “launching as early as March 2019.” That gives the company a little less than a year to really wow us with original content announcements, if it really wants to hit the ground running — assuming, of course, that many or most of the titles are already in production.
More likely, the company will ultimately ease into it. Apple Music, after all, didn’t exactly light the world on fire at launch, and Apple’s got no shortage or revenue streams at the moment, so it certainly won’t go bust if its billion-dollar investment fails to pay off overnight. But the competition is fierce for this one, extending beyond obvious competitors like Netflix and Hulu to longstanding networks like HBO, which are all vying to lock you in to monthly fees.
This battle won’t be easily won. The company has been mostly tight-lipped in all of this (as is its custom), but success is going to take a long-term commitment, with the understanding that it will most likely require a long runway to reap its own investment.
That projected $4 billion annual investment looks like a good place to start, but with Netflix planning to spend double that amount this year and Amazon potentially on target to pass it, Apple’s in for a bloody and expensive fight.