With a fat hoard of cash and an underfed TV+ video service, Apple is reportedly looking to the former to fill out the latter, buying third-party films and TV shows to augment its thin array of original offerings.
Bloomberg reports that Apple has already acquired some film and TV content from outside sources, and is getting pitched about licensing more content from existing producers.
More interesting in terms of the implications for Hollywood is whether Apple will make any acquisitions of entire libraries.
The COVID-19 lockdown has stalled production of most new content, making library content even more valuable. As well, all the major Hollywood studios are clawing back prize properties that previously were syndicated (as in The Office, Avengers movies and Friends) for their own streaming services.
That leaves a much smaller universe of potential suppliers, most of whom are trying to figure out their own futures as free agents in a streaming world dominated by giant competitors such as Apple, Amazon, AT&T, Disney, and Comcast.
Shopping should be easy, however. Apple’s traditionally vast cash hoard is down from last year, but still huge, at nearly $193 billion.
And Apple has been buying, most recently confirming the acquisition of NextVR , a highly regarded streamer of live content in virtual reality.
If it wants to bank a lot more traditional content, several smaller Hollywood media companies – ViacomCBS, Lionsgate, MGM, AMC, and Sony are the usual suspects – may be available.
Before the COVID-19-related lockdown hit with full force, Apple and Netflix were both reportedly in acquisition talks with MGM, which owns one of Hollywood’s biggest libraries including more than 4,000 movies and 10,000 hours of TV programming. Those properties include such widely available and much loved content as the James Bond, Rocky and Pink Panther movies and the various Stargate shows and films.
The library also includes 18 Best Picture Oscar winners, though none of the classic early MGM films such as The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. Former MGM owner Ted Turner kept that library when he sold back most of the rest of the studio (and United Artists) to Kirk Kerkorian in the 1990s. Turner subsequently sold the library to Warner Brothers, and those films will now be part of the HBO Max streaming service that debuts next week.
Regardless, the demands of the pandemic audience for more content, and competition from existing and new services suggest Apple needs to do something to bolster its underfed offering.
The move would mark a notable shift in strategy for the service, which had focused on a relatively small number of expensive shows featuring prominent stars and creators such as Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Jason Mamoa, and M. Night Shyamalan.
The service is priced at just $4.99, roughly half Netflix’s cheapest plan, and can be shared at no extra cost with up to five other family members’ accounts. More importantly, the company gave away one year free to anyone who bought a new Mac computer, iPhone or iPad.
That all made TV+ a high-profile addition to Apple’s portfolio of subscription offerings, a portfolio it’s relying upon to make up for flattening demand for its family of expensive iPhones, especially during the pandemic lockdown that closed Apple stores and production lines for many weeks. Apple reported a 17-percent rise last quarter in its services revenue, to a record $13.3 billion.
TV+ and rival DisneyDISDIS+ launched within two weeks of each other in November, with similar levels of hype, if not programming. But the subscription streaming service from Disney clearly was a bigger hit with consumers, thanks in part to the Star Wars-based series The Mandalorian, which proved to be a major pop culture breakout.
Disney+ debuted with 10 million subscribers thanks to pre-sales to its ardent fanbase and bargain bundles with sibling services ESPN+ and Hulu. It now claims more than 50 million subscribers.
By contrast, Apple TV+ has about 10 million subscribers, and many receive the subscription for free, as part of their recent purchase of an iPhone, iPad or Mac computer.
The bigger issue for TV+ is its lineup of programming. Though several shows were well received – including the expensive The Morning Show, documentary Little America, Dickinson, Amazing Stories and Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet –there haven’t been nearly enough of them.
Apple has rolled out about 30 original shows, specials and movies. Netflix releases around 50 films and TV shows every month.
Add in the crush of online viewing forced by the pandemic lockdown, and a halt to nearly all new production of film and TV across most of the planet, and TV+ users quickly whipped through all that the service had on offer. Apple isn’t alone in this challenge.
While Disney can rely on a rich catalog of children’s programming –which younger fans will watch repeatedly, to their grateful parents’ relief – Apple has virtually no children’s focused programming or any other catalog content to speak of, unlike Netflix or just about all the rest of Apple’s competitors.
That leaves buying up some libraries of existing content as the only exigent option to beef up the Apple offerings in the near term.
As for when any expanded content might show up in TV+, that’ll be driven by dealmaking. But one possibility might be as part of the company’s annual rollout of new products, operating systems and “one more thing,” during its World Wide Developers Conference.
The conference will be online only this year, beginning on June 22 with the usual Apple slew of product announcements. Speculation about new announcements includes additions to the operating systems for the company’s various hardware products, and possibly even an augmented-reality wearable called Apple Glass (perhaps another reason for the NextVR purchase).