Apple officially announced Apple TV Plus, a subscription service for its exclusive original shows and films, at a splashy event in March at its headquarters in Cupertino, California. It trotted out some of Hollywood's biggest stars and heavy hitters to sing its praises. , Steven Spielberg, , , and a who's who of other celebs filled the Steve Jobs Theater.
The company is still adding to its pipeline, weeks after the event. In April, the Duke of Sussex -- better known as Prince Harry -- announced he would co-create the mental-health documentary series that Oprah announced onstage. And Apple reportedly gave the green light to a third program from Abrams: an eight-episode adaption ofLisey's Story, which stars Oscar-winner Julianne Moore as a woman trying to move on after her novelist husband's death.
But Apple has been silent about some of the most important details potential subscribers need to know. The company played coy on specifics including how much the Apple TV Plus will cost, how many programs will be available at launch and whether Apple will drop all episodes in a season all at once, a la Netflix.
Still, that didn't stop Apple CEO Tim Cook from heralding Apple TV Plus as being "unlike anything that's been done before."
We have to wait until we can judge for ourselves.
What will Apple's TV service look like?
Even after Apple's splashy unveiling, we still don't have much clarity. The event gave us some more details about specific programs Apple is producing (more on that below), and the company specified that Apple TV Plus won't have ads and will be available in more than 100 countries. It will also be part of Apple's family sharing feature, which allows you and up to five family members to share a plan.
But we still don't know exactly how all the pieces fit together.
We do know that Apple's new subscription service will live inside its revamped TV app. There, Apple TV Plus will sit next to other video subscriptions such as HBO or Starz. (Just don't expect there.) The TV app's refresh will go live this month, but we'll be waiting for Apple's TV Plus service until the fall.
Still, Apple didn't answer questions like: Will this service also have a library of licensed shows and movies, making it similar to Netflix? Will it stick to its own originals and release shows week to week, along the lines of a premium channel like HBO? Or will it focus on integrating its own subscription programming next to that from add-on channels and iTunes-like rental and purchase options, similar to?
And will Apple package any of its own subscriptions, such as the new Apple News Plus and Apple Music, into ? Will it score price breaks from add-on subscription partners such as HBO, Showtime or Starz -- and will it give consumers a lower cost if they bundle Apple TV Plus with some of those streaming channels? (Note: Showtime is owned by CBS, the parent company of CNET.)
We still don't know. Even people who are making shows for Apple have been kept in the dark about how those shows will be released.
But ahead of the March event, Apple was reportedly racing to finalize deals with networks to license catalogs of already released content that'll supplement its original shows. And it wasn't a shock when Amazon's Channels. And Netflix doesn't even allow people to sign up for a new subscription in its iOS app because of the company's distaste for Apple's fees.CEO Reed Hastings confirmed this week that the company wasn't participating in Apple's new TV app. For one, Netflix doesn't participate in bundles like
How much will it cost?
Apple hasn't specified price, but BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield believes Apple will give its $2 billion a year in programming for free.
If you own an Apple device, Greenfield anticipates Apple will provide free access to these productions in the TV app on iOS or Apple TV. "Think of Apple's strategy along the lines of [Amazon's] ," he said in a September note. Apple's hope is that viewers will come for Oprah or Abrams and then tack on other paid services to watch HBO, Starz or Showtime all in the same place. (Apple of a service's subscription revenue when you sign up through one of its storefronts.) In this scenario, Apple could offer the service to people who don't own its gadget by charging a subscription fee to those who want to watch on competitors' products.
But it's also reasonable to doubt that theory. Apple, known for premium products with high price tags, would be acting out of character to give away free programming.
Apple may try to create its own kind of discounted bundle -- packaging a group of about 15 video services, including paid streaming networks and free digital channels such as Tastemade -- and throw in its short list of finished originals as a bonus, at least initially.
However, Apple offering a free trial period is a safe bet. The company launched Apple Music with an extended free trial, and it's the industry standard: Most streaming video services offer introductory free periods for new members. The duration of that free trial may differ whether you own an Apple device or not.
If Apple does decide to charge for its Apple TV Plus, there's a general price range it'll need to meet for it to be competitive.
Most streaming video services -- at least the ones with the kind of premium programming that Apple is cultivating -- range from about $5 to $15 a month. Netflix, as the world's biggest subscription streaming service, sets the benchmark: $13 in the US for its most popular plan. But Apple's catalog of shows will be much thinner than Netflix's, making it hard for consumers to swallow a price that matches or tops that. Disney, for example, has said it will price its forthcoming less than Netflix specifically because it won't have the same breadth of original exclusives as Netflix.
When will it launch?
Finally, a question Apple addressed. Apple TV Plus will launch in the fall of 2019.
Apple plans to launch the service in the US followed by an expansion to more than 100 countries, according to a report.
What devices will be able to stream it?
Apple's programming will be available on all Apple devices with the new Apple TV app.
In addition, Apple TV Plus will presumably be available on competitor's devices too. Apple said that the overhauled TV app will be available this year on Roku, Amazon's Fire TV devices and smart TVs from Samsung, Sony, LG and Vizio. Since that app is the home for the Apple TV Plus service, it's likely that you'll be able to stream Apple's shows on those devices too. But it's possible Apple could limit support for the TV Plus service only to its own devices.
What shows and movies will it have?
run the gamut of drama, comedy, documentary -- even undefined deals with a single big star attached. CNET keeps a tally of the known so far, and it has details on every program.
But most of these series won't be ready to debut when the service launches. Only five reportedly have finished shooting:
- An Octavia Spencer mystery drama called Are You Sleeping?
- A space drama from Outlander and Battlestar Galactica producer Ronald D. Moore called For All Mankind.
- A thriller, Servant, from Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan.
- A comedy, Mythic Quest, from Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day, who created and star in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
- A comedy about reclusive poet Emily Dickinson, played by Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit and The Edge of Seventeen.
Shows that are currently shooting, according to a report:
- The Morning Show, a drama about a morning broadcast program starring Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell.
- Amazing Stories, an anthology series from Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television and NBC Universal.
- See, a sci-fi drama starring Jason Momoa, who's part of the DC Justice League movie crew playing Aquaman and rose to prominence playing Daenarys Targaryen's first husband in early season of Game of Thrones.
- Little America, the brainchild of husband-and-wife screenwriting team Kumail Nanjiani (you may know him as Dinesh on HBO's Silicon Valley) and Emily V. Gordon, whose The Big Sick was the toast of Sundance more than two years ago.
- Central Park, a cartoon musical from the creator of Bob's Burgers and packed with the voices of stars such as Frozen's Josh Gad and Kristen Bell and Hamilton's Leslie Odom Jr. and Daveed Diggs.
- A docuseries Home, which will go inside extraordinary houses and explore the minds of the people who built them.
The company's progress lining up movies for the service is less advanced, at least from what's publicly known. Apple has a partnership with film studio A24 -- known for such movies as Ex Machina, Moonlight and Room. Their partnership will include a film called On the Rocks starring Bill Murray and Rashida Jones and directed by Sofia Coppola.
Apple has also acquired a few films at festivals to distribute on the new service. It picked up Hala, produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, at Sundance and a documentary about elephants called Cartoon Saloon and Melusine Productions.at the Toronto Film Festival. The company also bought the rights to Wolfwalkers, an animated movie from
Apple has come under early scrutiny because of reports it'sfrom making edgy content and aiming to keep all its programming family friendly. Family friendly programming isn't a liability to success -- Disney built one of the reigning media empires on it -- but edgy shows have led other streaming services to awards recognition that often drives new viewers to try a service and is frequently used as a barometer for a service's success. Apple's strategy could crimp it competitively on that front.
But that won't stop Apple from trying to score awards, apparently. The company is hiring strategists to help craft campaigns for awards like the Oscars and Emmys, according to a report.
Who will Apple battle to win subscribers?
Apple's forthcoming service would launch at a time when seemingly every major media property is putting out their own streaming option, from DC Universe'sto a , not to mention stalwarts like .
Should Apple focus on bundling other digital networks, then Amazon Channels will be its key rival. But Apple is also going up against wireless companies such as AT&T that offer VRV, a co-op of niche genre streaming services.
The bundling model even brings Apple in competition with traditional cable. In the week before Apples event, security cameras in your home.announced a $5-a-month service called Xfinity Flex, which lumps together a streaming box, a voice remote and a digital interface to navigate all your video options in one place -- Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and HBO along with free ad-supported shows and options to rent or buy programming -- as well as throwing in controls for music services and connected
As Netflix likes to point out, video services don't just compete among themselves, they're going up against anything that's vying for your attention. Traditional television, YouTube, the parade of live-TV streaming services -- even gaming phenoms like Fortnite -- all pack Apple's new competitive field.
What's interesting is that Apple's dive into original programming comes as other giants are ramping up their own original video ambitions.
Star Wars original series and other programming. It'll cost , CEO Bob Iger has said.is expected to launch a Netflix-like service next year. Called Disney Plus, the digital service will be a home base for streaming all of Disney's blockbuster movies, multiple
Basically, if you're interested in subscribing to all of these services, you may want to start saving up now.
Apple is a gadget giant. Why does it want to become Netflix?
Apple is taking aim at original video because it could be a crucial enticement for people to buy more iPhones and other gadgets. You can't overstate the importance of the iPhone to Apple. The phone, one of the most popular in the world, still accounts for more than half its sales and was critical to Apple's march to become the .
But Apple is on a deadline to double its services revenue to $50 billion before 2021.
Apple quickly established its bona fides in subscriptions businesses with Apple Music. But the content on Apple Music is essentially the same as every other music service. They all have tens of millions of songs. Apple Music has been successful largely because of its presence on the iPhone, already in the pockets of millions of people. It hasn't been nearly as successful working the other direction, acting as a lure to buy the latest Apple gadget.
Original video from big-name stars and creators you can't watch anywhere else, however, could be different.
Apple clearly has a hunch it will be.
Originally published Sept. 8, 2018, and updated as new information is revealed.