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Apple’s Big Streaming Play Might Not Be a “Service” at All

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  March 22nd, 2019  By Pete Pachal

It’s been talked about for legitimately years: the Apple TV service. All signs point to it arriving Monday, when Apple has scheduled a “special event.” Will Apple’s offering compete with on-demand services like Netflix, live TV packages like Sling TV, or both — or will it be something else entirely?

First, the basics: The event, which will take place at the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California, begins at 10 a.m. Pacific Time on Monday, March 25. It will also be streamed live on the Apple website. The invitations included a graphic that showed a 4-3-2-🍎 countdown in the style of a film reel with the words “It’s show time” (tellingly, spelled as two words).

I’ll be attending the event for Reviews.com, reporting live on Twitter and Instagram.

If the event invitation wasn’t enough of a giveaway, industry rumors have been converging around the idea of an Apple TV service for a while now. What started as speculation soon turned into a waiting game after the company unveiled an app for its Apple TV streaming box, simply called “TV.” Since then, Apple hasn’t said much about its streaming plans, but it’s seemingly been revving them up in plain sight, signing deals with several big-name creators, such as Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg.

Given all those reports, many have leapt to the conclusion that Apple will unveil its own streaming service, complete with original content — a direct competitor to Netflix, Prime Video, and every other over-the-top service looking for eyeballs. Presumably the new service would mainly be meant for owners of Apple devices like iPhones, iPads, and Apple TV, but Apple recently opened up its TV app to select third-party TVs, and that could be the first phase to a bigger push.

If Apple is planning to offer up its own streaming service, it’s entering a crowded space. According to a recent Deloitte study, the number of video streaming services is up to over 300, which is 100 more than a year ago. The same study found the typical household subscribes to three different video services, and that’s often on top of regular pay TV like cable.

You don’t need to point to statistics to know the streaming world is breaking off into smaller and smaller continents. CBS All Access, riding flagship show “Star Trek: Discovery,” has shown even a single channel can cultivate subscribers, as long as the content is good … and exclusive. Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, is set to debut later this year, potentially silo’ing off franchises like Star Wars and the Marvel Universe from the likes of Netflix and Amazon. Even Roku competes; its free-to-watch Roku Channel continues to add new content like specialty streams and live basketball.

In other words, Apple will have its work cut out for it if it intends to go toe-to-toe with Netflix. But that’s probably not what it’s doing. According to a recent report from Recode, Apple’s big video move is actually a storefront for other streaming services — a place on your iPhone or Apple TV that steers you to subscribing to everything from DirecTV Now to Crackle, with Apple getting a cut of the fees from whoever signs up.

Hold up, doesn’t Apple do that now? Yes, but the report suggests two big differences: First, the new storefront will be prominent (presumably not just the current TV app). Second, and more important, Apple could offer bundle discounts if you buy more than one service. If the new service can shave a few bucks off the combined cost of all the stuff you’re subscribing to anyway (remember: everyone’s got at least three subscriptions now), why wouldn’t you sign up through Apple?

So where does that leave Apple’s originals, like Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories” reboot and whatever “Star Wars: Episode IX” director J.J. Abrams is cooking up with Jennifer Garner? The Recode report suggests they’ll be special Apple-only add-ons to whatever bundle package you get. Exactly what will be available and to whom is unclear (at least until Monday), but long-term they could lay the groundwork for an Apple TV service that is more like a Netflix competitor down the road.

Lest we forget: A video streaming product likely isn’t the only Shiny New Apple Thing™️ on deck. Apple appears ready to finally show us what it’s put together in the wake of its 2018 acquisition of Texture, the digital magazine app. It seems obvious that Apple would fold Texture into Apple News, letting readers subscribe to various titles in the same app they were already doing a ton of reading.

You’re probably sensing a theme here. To beef up its services (and the revenue they generate), Apple isn’t making any sudden moves. Rather, it’s finding novel ways to start getting its customers to buy things they were probably going to buy anyway, just through an Apple storefront. And the services focus explains why the company spent the last few days ticking off various hardware boxes, simultaneously clearing the runway while reminding the buying public just what they’re going to be enjoying all this great content on.

That’s certainly the ultimate point. Monday might be all about services and streaming, but whatever Tim Cook pulls out of his hat will be conceived, designed, and marketed around the thing that’s always been at Apple’s core: buying more stuff.

(Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

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