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Week In Review: Disney Strikes Its Own Sony Deal, Apple TV Still Overpriced

1. Disney Strikes Its Own Sony Deal

Remember how last week Netflix struck a deal with Sony and everyone was saying how brilliant Sony was for not starting their own Flix and just hitching their wagon to Netflix’s bright shining star?

Well that was last week. This week Sony’s being praised for being even more brilliant and striking a deal with Disney.

The new deal gives Disney exclusive rights to Sony franchises like Spider-Man after the first pay window expires (roughly nine months after the original theatrical release) and by “Disney” I mean Hulu, Disney, FX, ABC and Freeform.

Why It Matters

The big question here of course, the one we can only speculate on for now, is was Netflix cool with this or is some poor lawyer getting their ass handed to them by Reed Hastings for not putting a clause in the Sony deal saying they had to give Netflix first right of refusal on the next set of windows and all that library content.

On the one hand, Netflix got what they needed out of their current Sony deal: the ability to tell consumers “Hey, we have first run movies too. And unlike those schnorrers at Amazon, we’re not going to charge you extra for them.”

Disney got what they needed out of their Sony deal too.

Let Netflix get the Spider-Man movies when they’re first out. People watch Disney for the classics. And let’s face it, if you didn’t know what service Spider-Man was on, Disney would be the first place you’d go looking for it.

The value isn’t for current viewers. It’s for all those kids who are in preschool right now, who are going to want to watch the entire Spider-Man oeuvre multiple times in about five years, and their younger siblings and cousins.

Mostly this is a huge win for Sony who gets props once again for not starting their own Flix and for being such a savvy negotiator. 

Because as they say in Hollywood, not everyone needs to be in front of the camera.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re Sony, take a bow. Well done on the negotiating front. Now it’s up to you to make Spider-Man movies that people will get excited about. 

If you’re Netflix, get better lawyers. Even if you didn’t care about whether Disney got the next window rights, having the announcement come on the heels of the one where you didn’t meet your subscriber number goals is not a good look. (Though not meeting subscriber numbers, as my colleague John Cassillo points out, is not the end of the world.)

If you’re a Spider-Man fan , be happy–you’ve now got multiple places to watch it.

If you’re one of the other studios, Lionsgate perhaps, I hope you’re taking notes.

2. Apple TV Still Overpriced

Apple rolled out its Spring 2021 collection last week, which included some colorful iMacs, some high end iPads and an updated Apple TV device.

Puzzlingly, the updates to the latter included the ability to stream in HDR, something they’re billing as “innovative color balance technology” and a new Siri-based remote.

While I’m sure there’s someone who wants all of those things, the two things many Apple fans were hoping for–a much lower price tag and a stick rather than a puck, were nowhere to be found.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern noted, “Apple didn’t remove the biggest pain point: the device’s exorbitant price. Honestly, with a starting price of $179, Apple TV is a hard sell for anyone looking for a connected streaming device.”

Why It Matters

Apple has basically conceded the streaming device market to Roku and Amazon, both of whom offer devices priced at $29 that have more or less the same functionality as the Apple TV and, especially in the case of Roku, interfaces that are just as user friendly.

As I’ve noted many times over the past several years, Apple can’t seem to move past its successful ‘00s MO: find a nascent market where the leading product is designed by engineers and hard to use. Introduce a beautifully designed high-end product that’s extremely user-friendly with an elegant interface and then sit back and watch the market grow around you.

It worked for the iPod, iPhone and iPad. But it hasn’t been working in the 10s and 20s, mostly because Apple’s been trying to take on markets where the mass of consumers are quite happy with what the current market leader has on offer, and Apple’s not really adding anything new, save for a higher price tag.

Apple Music offers no discernable advantage over Spotify. HomePod may have better sound quality than Alexa, but anyone who really cares about that will connect their Alexa to some high end external speakers. And the Apple TV offers no real advantage over Roku and Amazon.

Take the new remote, which is based on Siri.

Has anyone at Apple ever tried using Siri? Her inability to understand people makes Alexa look like a savant. So for many people, a Siri-powered remote is going to be a net-negative, not a net-positive.

Plus Apple’s not just competing against Roku and Amazon these days. The big smart TV OEMs—Samsung, Vizio and LG—have all upped their interface game and are thus eliminating the need for an external device. (Hence Roku and Amazon battling to become the OS in as many low-priced smart TVs as possible.)

So there’s that, and the $179 price tag.

Apple fan folk will argue that the ability to watch HDR and do the color adjustment thing are worth the additional $150. 

And for some of them, I’m sure it is.

But most of us will struggle to see any real difference between regular HD and 4K, let alone HDR, so that’s not really going to be a big selling point.

Which leads to the question of why Apple even bothers.

The Apple TV device mostly just gets them bad press as analysts note the tiny sliver of market share it has compared to Roku and Amazon and speculate on why Apple let that happen.

The Apple TV+ app, OTOH, has gotten relatively good press, but it’s available via a wide range of hardware–the newest Rokus even have a dedicated Apple TV+ button on the remote–and so the existence of the device provides the app with no real benefit.

Not all that big a deal in the scheme of things and nothing more than a light scratch on Apple’s bottom line, but a curious decision nonetheless.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re Apple, you’ve got three choices: (a) sunset the Apple TV device, (b) bite the bullet and make it the operating system of an actual Apple branded TV (there are renewed rumors that an Apple TV set is in the works), or (c) make a $49 stick. 

The $49 stick is on brand–Apple had the Nano and Shuffle because people thought the iPod was too expensive, so there’s certainly precedent.

If you’re Roku, Amazon, Samsung, Vizio and LG, be glad that Apple is being so obstinate. Their loss is your gain.

If you’re a big Apple fan, I probably can’t talk you out of dropping $179 on the new Apple TV device. But it’s really not worth the extra money.