CDC director endorses Pfizer booster for frontline workers iPhone 13 is on sale: Best deals China: All cryptocurrency transactions illegal Elon Musk and Grimes 'semi-separated' PS5 restock tracker Google Doodle honors Christopher Reeve
CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Apple TV Plus' free-trial extensions set to end before Ted Lasso's return

Apple TV Plus has extended free trials for months after they were supposed to end. Some subscribers have never paid. But the Everlasting Gobstopper of free trials is set to run out soon.

ted-lasso-photo-010302

Ted Lasso, a fish-out-of-water sports dramedy starring Jason Sudeikis, has been one of Apple TV Plus' most popular shows. 

Apple
This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple.

Ted Lasso, the Apple TV Plus sports dramedy that may be its closest thing to a breakout hit, is set to return July 23. But in a first for a lot of Apple TV Plus subscribers, you might actually have to pay to watch it. 

The second-season premiere for Ted Lasso, announced at Apple's Spring Loaded event Tuesday, will arrive after the date that Apple TV Plus' oft-extended free trials are set to expire. Since launching in late 2019, Apple TV Plus has repeatedly extended free trials for people who have bought an Apple gadget. One analyst estimates that 62% of Apple TV Plus accounts are riding a promotion. But the latest extension to existing Apple TV Plus' free trials is set to end July 1; the service otherwise costs $5 a month.

Read moreTed Lasso season 2 gets goofy trailer

The timing of Ted Lasso's return -- that is, bringing back one of Apple TV Plus' most popular programs nearly three weeks after many free trials are set to end -- suggests that subscribers who have been freeloading Apple TV Plus for more than a year may actually need to start paying up to watch.

Apple didn't respond to requests for comment about Apple TV Plus' free trials. 

For people who haven't streamed Apple TV Plus before, Apple continues to offer a year-long free trial for new subscribers if you buy a new iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV or Mac, with no indication of when it will stop offering that promo. But existing subscribers whose free trials have been extended, including some who have never paid for Apple TV Plus since it launched in November 2019, are set to start paying for the service July 1, unless they cancel -- or unless Apple extends the free period yet again. 

The pattern of ending free trial offers before a big premiere has precedent at other upstart streaming services. Disney Plus ended its free trial last June, shortly before the release of its wildly popular film of Hamilton's Broadway cast. HBO Max killed its free trial in December, just weeks before it was set to release Wonder Woman 1984 in theaters and on its streaming service the same day. 

Apple TV Plus is the gadget giant's subscription video streaming service featuring Apple's original TV shows and movies, competing with the likes of Netflix, Disney Plus and others. But Apple kicking the can down the road with multiple extensions to free trials hasn't signaled confidence in the service's traction thus far. Apple has never disclosed how many people are subscribed to Apple TV Plus. Issuing repeated extensions to free members is certainly welcomed by customers, but it may be interpreted as a sign Apple has doubts about those free members converting to paid ones.

Netflix, the industry leader, had more than 200 million paying members worldwide at the end of last year. Disney Plus, which launched two weeks after Apple, has more than 100 million subscribers. Apple is widely considered to have far fewer.

With a reported budget of $6 billion to rope in some of Hollywood's biggest stars, Apple TV Plus was the first to the battle lines in the so-called streaming wars, of about a year and a half when media giants and tech titans launched a flood of new streaming services to take on Netflix. These battles -- pitting rookies like Apple TV Plus, HBO MaxDisney Plus and NBCUniversal's Peacock against heavyweights like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video -- have spurred huge corporations to pour billions of dollars into the hope of shaping the future of television. But for you, it means more services to sort through -- and pay for -- as you figure out what to watch and where to find it. 

Apple TV Plus is different from most rivals in lacking a massive back catalog of programming. It pitches itself to audiences as a low-priced option for a slimmer library of prestige shows and movies made with big budgets instead. It staked the most on The Morning Show, its marquee drama starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, with an eye-popping $300 million reported budget. And since launching with fewer than a dozen titles in late 2019, Apple TV Plus has expanded to a selection of more than 60. 

Ted Lasso has seemed to be Apple TV Plus' closest thing to a darling for both audiences and critics. But so far, Apple TV Plus hasn't produced a breakout hit with the stratospheric popularity of something like Disney Plus' The Mandalorian, nor has it minted a true awards magnet that hauls in piles of statues. Either is crucial for new services to generate the kind of buzz that gets new members interested and keeps current subscribers from canceling. 

Apple may bet on its heartwarming, shortbread-baking, underdog-cheering Ted Lasso to make the play that finally wins loyal subscribers, even if they have to start paying up.

Now playing: Watch this: Highlights from Apple's Spring Loaded event in 10 minutes
10:01