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Apple made a big Hollywood splash in 2019. In 2020, it needs even more

The Apple TV Plus launch this year was a multibillion-dollar bet. Next year we learn if Apple can move beyond being just the iPhone company.

Reese Witherspoon (left) and Jennifer Aniston please the paparazzi at New York's Lincoln Center during the global premiere of the Apple TV Plus series The Morning Show.

Reese Witherspoon (left) and Jennifer Aniston please the paparazzi at the global premiere of the Apple TV Plus series The Morning Show.

Brian Ach/Getty Images

Apple upended the tech world with its Mac computer. Its iTunes music software and iPod helped change how we listen to songs. Then the iPhone revolutionized tech and entertainment again, offering a constant connection to the internet from our pockets.

But what comes next?

That's the perpetual question facing Apple, one of the most successful companies ever and one of the few to be valued at more than $1 trillion by Wall Street. And though sales of its most popular device, the iPhone, still dwarf those of nearly every other competitor, growth has slowed to a crawl.

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That's part of why, this year, Apple unveiled a quartet of new services around games, finance, news and video, each focused on convincing iPhone owners to shell out even more for new, magical experiences on their devices.

"It's unlike anything that's been done before," Apple's CEO Tim Cook said when announcing the new services in March.

One of the big selling points of Apple Arcade is you can play games on an iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV.

Apple

There's Apple Arcade, a $4.99 per month service promising access to a collection of more than 100 games ranging from gory action fighting games to family-friendly puzzles. There's Apple News Plus, a $9.99 per month subscription to more than 300 publications, including Consumer Reports, Entertainment Weekly, Wired, Time and portions of The Wall Street Journal. And don't forget the Apple-branded credit card, backed by Goldman Sachs and powered by Apple's well-regarded software teams.

But Apple's most ambitious project announced this year was Apple TV Plus, a collection of more than a dozen television shows and documentaries created with stars like Jennifer AnnistonSteve Carell and talk show sensation Oprah. At $4.99 per month, it's cheaper than what we're being offered by rivals who have large back catalogs to entice viewers, such as Disney Plus with its Marvel, Star Wars and Disney animation at $6.99 a month, or Netflix with its hit original shows and movies at $9.99 per month.

Apple's been pushing hard, enticing new viewers to sign up when they launch its free Apple TV app on their iPhones or iPads, and it's offered a year of the service for free to anyone who buys a new device from the company. The hope is that the subscription dollars you pay for its entertainment will lock you more tightly into the Apple universe, while also giving the company a healthy new revenue stream to offset maturing iPhone sales.

With an ever growing list of competitors from Disney Plus to Amazon Prime to HBO Max and even CBS All Access from CNET parent ViacomCBS, Apple's looked to the likes of Oprah to help seal the deal with both viewers and creators.

After all, why choose Apple? "They're in billions of pockets y'all," Winfrey said in March.

In 2020, we'll learn whether Apple's legendary track record as a titan of industry can repeat itself.

"When you have a Stranger Things or a Game of Thrones, that pulls people to your service," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Techsponential. "Right now, Apple doesn't have that."

The Morning Show

The Morning Show, apple's dramedy about the behind-the-scenes life of morning show hosts, picked up several awards nominations.

Apple

A mixed start

Apple's success right now is in the eyes of the beholder. There are good reviews for Apple Arcade games like the dungeon crawler Bleak Sword, the artistic adventure Where Cards Fall and the exploration game Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm, although the number of subscribers is a question.

On the negative end, there are rumors that Apple's struggled to attract subscribers to Apple News Plus after its launch in March. Some analysts also noted that Apple giving away a free year of Apple TV Plus with each new iPhone, iPad and Mac might signal the company's worries about its potential for success.

Apple TV Plus has also gotten off to a critically auspicious start, with nominations in the Critics' Choice Awards, Golden Globe Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards for its dramedy The Morning Show. That's far fewer than the 61 nominations Netflix received, 33 for HBO or 14 for Amazon, but analysts say it's a sign of success nonetheless.

"From a content perspective, they make good choices," Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies, said of Apple.

She added that there seems to be a good mix of the types of shows on the service, despite rumors of Apple's executive's concerns about shows being family-friendly. Series like See, a gritty post-apocalyptic show featuring Game of Thrones and Aquaman star Jason Momoa, is geared more toward adults. Meanwhile, Snoopy in Space is clearly aimed at the younger set.

But from a buzz and audience perspective, it's fallen short of its key new rival, Disney Plus, which boasts a viral sensation in The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda. Data shows that The Mandalorian was more popular than anything on Apple TV Plus by a wide margin.

This next year will be pivotal as some shows launch their second season and potentially new ones premiere. But the free-year promotion will likely mask just how well or poorly Apple TV Plus is faring, and it may take a while before we learn if consumers are willing to actually pay for the service.

There's no question, however, that Apple made a big splash in 2019.

"Whether they can keep the momentum going is still a question," Milanesi said.

We'll be watching.