Thursday, October 17, 2019

Apple CEO Tim Cook will take the stage at the Steve Jobs Theater on Monday to unveil two new subscription services for the company. One is a highly anticipated video service that will put Apple in direct competition with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and other streaming heavyweights — to some extent.

On March 21st, Recode reported that Apple’s primary focus out of the gate will be simplifying subscriptions to services like HBO and Starz. Unlike now, where the TV app kicks you out to third-party apps to actually watch shows, Apple will be serving the streams for content from all of its partners directly inside the Apple TV app under this new approach. On March 22nd, The New York Times confirmed that HBO and CBS have agreed to be part of Apple’s new video push. CNBC says Hulu has opted out — and Netflix has already confirmed it’s not taking part. CNBC noted that even some of Apple’s partners do not yet know how the company plans to package and present the new service.

The other new service is an all-in-one subscription news / magazine service that could change the way many iPhone owners keep up with current events and their favorite publications.

The company spent the first half of this week making new hardware announcements — including new iPads, iMacs, and AirPods — so that all focus at the event will be on its latest software and services.

APPLE VIDEO

Apple has spent years finding its way to this point. One of the more frequently cited quotes from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs was Jobs’ boast that he had “cracked” the challenge of reinventing the consumer TV experience. The late Apple co-founder reportedly had hoped to continue working on a television set after stepping down as CEO before his health took a downward turn.

But the company has faced years of unsuccessful negotiations and stalled progress. It never managed to roll out a proper internet TV service like those we’ve seen from Sling TV, YouTube, Hulu, AT&T, and Sony. So although the Jobs quote is almost certainly irrelevant to whatever video subscription offering we’ll see on Monday, this is still a major endeavor for Apple. The company has been pouring resources into original programming, and it has a growing catalog of TV shows with huge names involved.

Apple got off to a less-than-promising start with its original programming. House of Cards is thought of as Netflix’s first big series, and it was a triumphant one. Apple’s first swing, on the other hand, was Planet of the Apps. The blatant Shark Tank knock-off starring Will.i.am, Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Gary Vaynerchuk was widely savaged by critics and viewers alike and canceled after a single season.

Apple then tried to stretch James Corden’s popular Carpool Karaoke segment into a standalone TV show. Reviews for Carpool Karaoke: The Series weren’t much kinder; yes, an amusing late show bit with some memorable moments can get fatiguing when it runs for 20 minutes. But the show at least made it to a second season and picked up a Daytime Emmy in the process. More importantly, it pulled Apple’s original content out of the Apple Music app — a place where no one would ever even know to look for it — and moved things over to the more sensible TV app that ships preinstalled on iPhones and Apple TV. That’s the app that’s expected to be the home for Apple’s new subscription service, although the company has announced an iTunes Movies and TV app for Samsung televisions that could also expand to other non-Apple devices.

How much will it cost?

Rumors have consistently said that owners of Apple devices will be able to stream at least some of the service’s original programming for free. However, The Wall Street Journalreported on Sunday that Apple has shifted its position and now plans to charge an unspecified fee. The WSJ also reported that the Apple’s new TV app could allow people to easily subscribe to channels such as HBO, Showtime, and Starz for $9.99 per month each. Naturally, this is all meant to propel the revenues of Apple’s services business even higherafter the company takes its 30 percent cut.

Apple is likely calculating how high it can go here without rubbing up against subscription overload. A combined Apple Music / Apple Video bundle seems like a wise convenience to offer. In late January, Cheddar reported that Apple is also putting together a gaming subscription service. Will consumers really pay for all of these things separately if Apple doesn’t combine them?

How will I watch Apple’s TV service?

The leading theory right now is that Apple will integrate its subscription video service directly into the TV app on iOS and Apple TV. But there’s no TV app for Mac, Windows, or Android — not to mention Roku, Fire TV, and gaming consoles. That leaves out a lot of potential customers, so Apple will have to come up with another way for them to watch. A desktop browser could be an easy solution on PCs, but other platforms will require dedicated apps. And that’s exactly what’s happening according to a report from the The Wall Street Journalon Sunday that says the new TV app is coming to multiple platforms, including Roku and smart TVs.

Samsung has already announced that an iTunes Movies and TV Shows app is coming to its 2019 QLED televisions, so that’s at least one TV maker with a portal to the subscription service. But Apple still needs to cover a lot more ground.

Today, the Apple TV app brings together shows and movies from different video services — over 100, according to Apple — and gives users a primary hub for searching through that content or finding recommendations on what to watch next. But when they hit play, viewers are still switched over to third-party streaming apps from HBO, Hulu, Showtime, Starz, Syfy, and other partners to actually watch something. Building a full-fledged streaming app removes that awkward hopping between apps.

APPLE’S NEWS SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE

Apple is set to greatly expand the scope of its Apple News app with a new subscription service that will unlock access to hundreds of participating newspapers and magazines that normally keep their content behind a paywall. This new service, described as a “Netflix for news,” stems from Apple’s acquisition of a company called Texture last year.

It’s been rumored that the paid news service will cost $10 per month, and The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Apple — at least at one time — hoped to keep a 50 percent cut of subscriptions all to itself.

Some publishers have reportedly balked at Apple’s terms. Just yesterday, The New York Times reported that both it and The Washington Post have opted out of Apple’s soon-to-launch service, but The Wall Street Journal is said to have signed on. That’s a big get for Apple, but two immediate holdouts is evidence that Apple is already having trouble bundling together the publications that many consumers would actually want from a service like this. The Times said that Apple is still demanding roughly half of subscription revenue from partners, which far exceeds the 30 percent it gets from App Store subscriptions and in-app payments.

But millions of people use Apple News on their iPhones, iPads, or Macs, and Apple’s pitch is all about exposure and new eyeballs. So it’ll be very interesting to see which publications agree to bring their content to the service come Monday and whether Apple can deliver something compelling out of the gate — especially if it’s really going to cost $10 monthly.

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