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Apple TV+ Gets Big Boost Out of the Gate, But Will Its Shows Be Any Good?

Pete Pachal

Pete Pachal

Editorial Director

4 min. read

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If you needed any more evidence Apple is now all about services, you only had to look at its latest iPhone event. The new iPhone lineup — the iPhone 11 and its more powerful sisters, the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max — ostensibly the headliners for the big show, didn’t even get mentioned until 45 minutes in.

Instead, Apple’s new services plays were front and center. First revealed in the spring, Apple Arcade and Apple TV+ both got pricing and release dates. Apple Arcade — which gives subscribers access to more than 100 exclusive games across Apple devices, including Apple TV, will cost $4.99 a month. The service also makes use of Apple’s Family Sharing feature, meaning up to six people can share a subscription.

But the real showstopper was Apple TV+. Many were predicting Apple would charge a premium price to match the A-list talent involved (Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, and Oprah are all creating content), but CEO Tim Cook surprised everyone when he revealed the service would cost a mere $4.99 a month when it debuts in more than 100 countries on Nov. 1, and subscribers could sample it with a one-month free trial.

Here’s how Apple TV+ pricing compares to other streaming services:

  • Apple TV+: $4.99 a month
  • ESPN+: $4.99 a month
  • CBS All Access: $5.99 a month
  • Hulu: $5.99 a month
  • Disney+: $6.99 a month
  • Netflix SD: $8.99 a month
  • Starz: $8.99 a month
  • Showtime: $10.99 a month
  • Hulu: $11.99 a month
  • Netflix HD: $12.99 a month
  • Amazon Prime (includes video): $12.99 a month
  • HBO Now: $14.99 a month
  • Netflix 4K: $15.99 a month

Setting the monthly price at $4.99 is an aggressive and a smart move by Apple, since it acknowledges two things: 1) Its shows are still unproven, and 2) It has a lot of ground to make up right out of the gate. Yes, the quality of the shows looks great (the full trailer for “See” starring Jason Momoa was impressive) but remember: There will be only nine of them at the start. With some mild binging, you could theoretically blow through the entire catalog during the one-month free trial (Apple says it will stagger some show episodes weekly, while others will be released all at once, à la Netflix).

Word-of-mouth on those shows will likely be swift thanks to another shot in the arm Apple is giving its service: Anyone who buys an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV will get a free year of Apple TV+. That’s an even smarter move than the low price since it will give Apple a huge subscriber base out of the gate (iPhone sales may be falling, but they’re still massive) and, more importantly, gives Apple time to beef up its content catalog.

That’s going to be crucial, since many subscribers will have a hard time renewing their subscriptions if the catalog is mostly shows they watched during their first free year. In addition to the monthly additions of new originals (including “Servant,” a thriller series by M. Night Shyamalan), Apple may need to think about boosting its offering with licensed content. By comparison, Netflix offers subscribers 3,916 movies and 1,776 TV shows, according to Finder. That massive selection is a huge reason why many people stay subscribed month after month; speaking as a parent, I know I’d think twice about spending $12.99 a month if Netflix didn’t offer a seemingly endless supply of kid- and family-friendly entertainment.

That said, it’s not a zero-sum game: The average American subscribes to 3.4 streaming services, according to a recent study. The bargain price for Apple TV+ seemingly makes it a relatively easy sell, although the ongoing splintering of the market nullifies some of that advantage. With Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Now, and a host of others all clamoring for more of your monthly spend — not to mention a widening selection of free streaming services — many consumers will have to make some tough decisions about where they stream their shows.

Given the aggressive pricing, the one-month trial, and the free year with a gadget purchase, Apple has given its streaming service every possible chance to win those folks over. Now the content has to do its job, and despite Apple shoveling money at top talent, there’s no guarantee it’ll work.

Moreover, Apple’s whole approach to content in the streaming space seems off. The established-talent, high-production-values strategy feels very traditional Hollywood in a space that’s been largely defined by high-quality, often niche stories that aren’t necessarily made to appeal to a mass audience. Pick your show: “Stranger Things,” “Orange Is the New Black,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”… very few of them relied on massive star power or hype to succeed, but they all found rabid (and sometimes large) audiences, elevated their host platforms, and legitimized the internet-first approach.

It was probably inevitable that Apple or some other established player elbowed its way into the streaming arena with big budgets and bigger names. That could still succeed, but it’s a different brand of success than serving up something as edgy as, say, “Black Mirror.” And if it doesn’t work, Apple doesn’t have a large catalog of licensed content to fall back on (at least not yet).

In any case, audiences will find out in November whether the shows of Apple TV+ will turn Apple into the latest streaming darling or the internet equivalent of network TV. Get your popcorn — even if you don’t subscribe, it’s going to be entertaining to see this one play out.

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