Already the term aggregator has staked a claim as the buzzword of 2019 with Apple the latest to chance its arm at becoming the de facto portal for all things OTT video to support its own original content agenda. Still, the “It’s Showtime” event this week barely delivered a show at all as the technology giant tried grimacingly hard to dress itself up as Hollywood.
Simply put, Apple has put all its eggs in two baskets with the reveal of its new Apple TV+ streaming app – betting on celebrities and reach. The latter is a no-brainer, Apple ships over 200 million iPhones a year. But while A-list celebrities adorned the stage of the Steve Jobs Theater and the iPhone maker waxed lyrical about celebrated creative artists spearheading its original content roadmap, its technology roots were disappointingly sidelined.
Far from the lavish treatment of guests in Cupertino, Apple TV+ won’t be graced with a swanky new app but will instead reside inside Apple’s existing pre-installed TV app. This app is at least getting a revamp with more of an aggregator approach, collating shows, movies, sports, news and more in a single app across iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, smart TVs (from LG, Sony and Vizio via Airplay 2 later this year) and other streaming devices. Chromecast support wasn’t mentioned, but it would be restrictive of Apple not to add Chromecast compatibility in the future, while Apple has confirmed that support will arrive for Roku and Amazon Fire TV streaming devices.
Apple also describes “incredible picture quality and sound” but fails to elaborate in terms of support for 4K and HDR.
Apple couldn’t even manage to decide on a price prior to the event, meaning a waiting game until Apple TV+ officially fires into life at the start of May before we find out if the service will undercut Netflix or target the top end of the market. But when Apple Music launched in 2015, Apple originally wanted to launch at an aggressively low price point, eventually caving in under pressure from the music industry resulting in the current $9.99 a month subscription tag. With Apple TV+ being largely original content-focused, with a handful of third party options including HBO, Showtime and Starz, Apple can pull the strings this time around – although with its content budget set to soar well beyond the $1 billion already spent, Apple will be stretched to commit to a monthly fee of anything below $9.99.
While Apple TV+ will combine content from the partners mentioned above with original Apple content, the umbrella Apple TV app gives access to a much wider world of content – offering suggestions from over 150 video streaming apps including Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and DirecTV Now, alongside pay TV streaming services like Canal+, Charter Spectrum and soon to be Optimum and Suddenlink.
Technology talk was largely resigned to a backstage role, although there was one small cameo for personalization software, with Apple saying the “new” Apple TV app (not to be confused with the genuinely new Apple TV+ app within the Apple TV app) customizes content across existing apps and services, “while developing a secure and comprehensive understanding of users’ viewing interests.” In itself this is nothing new as the Apple TV app already brings together content from multiple sources, although it implies Apple TV+ aims to plug directly into third party OTT video apps, be it Netflix, YouTube or social media platforms, from where Apple can collect vast amounts of data on viewing habits. It can then make content recommendations for Apple TV+ or push offers to entice new subscribers. Apple has not confirmed the logistics of its cross-platform personalization plan but Faultline Online Reporter has reached out to a contact there. It’s possible Apple TV+ may eventually usurp Apple TV as already there is some confusion.
Privacy was emphasized heavily by Apple during the event, taking the opportunity to highlight a very different agenda to Google. Tim Cook took joy in reminding everyone that it will never sell data to third parties and remains committed to an advertising-free ecosystem. Naturally, this irritated people in the ad tech and publishing sectors, with some statements saying Apple has missed a trick with Apple TV+, whereby embracing a freemium model (both paid and free tiers) would provide much-needed support for budding content producers. But realistically when has Apple ever been an advocate for start-ups?
There is only one thing on Apple’s mind – Netflix – and the company will be spurred on by comments made recently by Reed Hastings shooting down proposals for an integration deal.
Forget Apple-Netflix, for anti-climax is miles more apt.