The other problem with Apple's content restrictions -- creative freedom

Posted:
in General Discussion edited September 26
Apple is reportedly resistant to sex, violence, and drug-related material in its upcoming content push. AppleInsider looks at why a lack of controversial shows might not be the only problem with Apple's TV approach.

Apple's TV, today


For most of the last year, Apple's upcoming foray into TV content has been framed a certain way. The company is spending billions of dollars to get into business with well-known talent and greenlighting a couple of dozen shows, even as it's never been clear exactly when Apple's TV efforts will launch or what distribution scheme it will use. The company has even made its initial move into feature film acquisition.

There's been some amount of hand-wringing over whether tech companies can beat Hollywood at their own game, but overall Apple has been seen as a likely major player in the TV space going forward.

But Apple's plans got a major wave of bad press following the publication over the weekend of a Wall Street Journal story with the headline "No Sex Please, We're Apple: iPhone Giant Seeks TV Success on Its Own Terms." According to the piece, which cited producers and agents, Apple is shying away from shows that depict "gratuitous sex, profanity or violence," with "religious subjects and politics" also on the no-no list.

Key for Apple, according to the reporting, is keeping up its family-friendly image and avoiding any controversy that could hurt its core business.

Forgot about Dre

The Journal story opens with an anecdote about Apple CEO Tim Cook, a year ago, viewing an episode of "Vital Signs", described as "a dark, semi-biographical tale of hip hop artist Dr. Dre." After Cook watched the show, which included "characters doing lines of cocaine, an extended orgy in a mansion and drawn guns," he declared that Apple could not show such a thing, and torpedoed the show. "Vital Signs" had been announced in 2016, although it never arrived and its exact fate remained a mystery until this week.

Assuming the anecdote is true, it's unclear exactly what Apple was expecting from a "semi-autobiographical tale" of Dr. Dre, especially since Cook and Apple presumably did some amount of due diligence back in 2014 when they bought Beats from Dre for $3 billion. It was also reported back in early 2016 that "Vital Signs" was viewed at the time as more of a promotional vehicle for Apple Music than a harbinger of Apple's entry into the TV business.

Apple does have some shows in the works with mature themes, including a potential series about the life of the late pop star George Michael, and a series from two of the creators of the long-running, notoriously ribald comedy series "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." But overall, Apple's TV efforts are taking on a family-friendly tint.

Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, co-stars in an upcoming Apple series


At any rate, the Journal includes several examples of Apple objecting to content on the shows that are in development. Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, developing a show for Apple, was asked not to include crucifixes in a scene. Apple rejected an idea for a show starring comedian Whitney Cummings as "a college ombudsman in the era of #MeToo." And the most high-profile announced series in Apple's lineup, a show about TV morning news, to star A-listers Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, has been delayed due to disagreements with Apple executives about its tone.

The Journal story -- and various follow-up pieces -- have pointed out that Apple could be hurting themselves by largely avoiding more mature programming. After all, prestige TV has long been synonymous with nudity, violence, and other controversial content.

TV-MA

"The Sopranos" was loaded with sex, violence and profanity, as is its successor as HBO's marquee series, "Game of Thrones." Netflix has never been shy about risque material, and when Amazon started making TV shows, its first breakthrough was "Transparent," a groundbreaking drama series about a family patriarch (Jeffrey Tambor) who comes out as a transgender woman. And "Breaking Bad," which was supervised at Sony TV by current Apple content executives Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, got very dark and very violent very often throughout its run on AMC.

Breaking Bad


One could make the case that Apple is handicapping themselves by avoiding any sex, violence, drugs, religion, politics, or any other subject matter that could conceivably be called controversial. Apparently some within Apple agree- according to the Journal, employees inside Apple in Los Angeles have taken to calling the content project "Expensive NBC."

But there's another issue, raised the Journal story, that should raise questions about Apple's content plans.

Creative control

Beyond the conflict restrictions, there's another continuing theme in the Journal story, one of Apple executives interfering with the visions of creators of the new shows. One show was spiked before it debuted, others had showrunners replaced, and still others had executives give notes on small aspects of their shows.

Some level of what's called "studio interference" is always to be expected, and has been for long as there have been movies and TV shows. After all, it's Apple's billions that are funding the enterprise. But it's not hard to imagine word getting out in the creative community that Apple isn't a place where showrunners and other artists are given as high a level of autonomy as they are in other places. Adding to this is the possible perception that Tim Cook and Eddy Cue, accomplished as they are, do not come from a background of running or overseeing a TV or movie studio.

Contrast that with future competitor Netflix, which in the last six months has made nine-figure deals to lure three major TV showrunners -- Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy and Kenya Barris -- from their previous networks. Those deals have granted those creators not only massive amounts of money, but a high level of creative freedom. This is especially important for someone like Barris, the creator of "Black-ish," who frequently clashed with ABC Studios brass over that popular show.

So the next time a major artist is deciding where to set up his or her next big project, that person might look at the deals Netflix is giving out, and choose them over Apple, where they might not get the chance to push the envelope, or get final say over major aspects of their show. And such a perception could hurt Apple in the long run.

"When you have a large platform, there's a large responsibility"

No, Apple's planned content restrictions are not "censorship," as Daily Telegraph ludicrously stated in a headline. Apple can air or not air whatever content it chooses on their own platform. It remains not a public venue, and can police its platform, and its devices, any way it sees fit.

Even so, Apple has never been as much of a free speech absolutist as some other companies in the tech space. Eddy Cue, speaking at South by Southwest last spring, articulated Apple's view in the matter.

Eddy Cue at SXSW


"We think when you have a large platform, there's a large responsibility," Cue said. "From the music store, to the app store, to podcasts, we had a bunch of rules, we came up with guidelines that had to be followed in order to participate in that.

"At times we got some heat for it, people weren't happy that we had guidelines. The other part is that no one is completely free. There's no such thing as free," Cue said to applause. "There's no pornography on any of these sites, so people do draw lines, and you can decide where you want to draw the line. We do think free speech is important, but we don't think white supremacist speech or hate speech is free speech that ought to be out there."

This issue came up again in recent weeks, as Apple dropped conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' InfoWars, first from Apple Podcasts, and about a month later from the App Store. In July, Apple also removed QDrops, an app geared towards adherents of the "QAnon" conspiracy theory, from the App Store.

While he didn't address the subject of controversial shows, Cue addressed Apple's content plans in the same speech, stating that "we're not after quantity, we're after quality" and citing Steve Jobs' former leadership of Pixar Animation Studios as an inspiration, with lessons for the Apple of today.

"We want things that are of great quality," Cue said. "That doesn't mean everything will be a hit, but everything should be very very high quality, and I think that's where we will stand out."

The Disney precedent

There are ways for Apple to have controversial content on its platform without sullying their image. This is a question that's long been faced by Disney, another venerable family-friendly brand that was also associated with Steve Jobs.

When you think of Disney, you probably think of Mickey Mouse, or princesses, or Walt Disney World, or other characters or brands associated with children and families. More recently, Disney has leveraged its ownership of Star Wars and Marvel to add to its stable of kid-friendly characters, as these days you're as likely to run into a Storm Trooper at Disney World as you are Mickey or Goofy.

But Disney is such a corporate behemoth that it has its hand in a lot of things, from Hulu to the newly acquired Fox TV properties to the Touchstone Pictures movie imprint, that are at times more adult-oriented. Whether Disney is facing similar restrictions when it launches its own streaming service next year is a question that's come up before -- reports in August said it would omit all R-rated content -- but that will only serve to give Apple a direct, family-oriented streaming competitor.

The streaming future

Apple's content launch, according to the Journal piece, is currently set for March 2019, although there are chances it could be delayed even further. With billions at stake, and no particular product cycle dictating the timing of the launch, Apple seems likely to prioritize getting it right over getting it out fast.

Apple is clearly playing a long game with its content plans. They've got billions of dollars invested, and even if the first wave of shows is plagued by problems, there's plenty of room for course correction and changes in strategy with barely a blip in Apple's financials. Amazon got off to something of a slow start with its content plans, and it also took Netflix years to build out itself out into a streaming collossus.

But when it comes to whether Apple's service will succeed, relationships with talent may end up as just as important a factor as any. The question surrounding the avoidance of mature content is less about immediate viewership attraction, and really whether Apple can maintain those relationships with the stable of creators, making it the right one for the company.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 39
    tl:dr. but it says a lot that Apple are proud to promote those awful carpool karaoke videos by Britain's least loved "comedian"  
  • Reply 2 of 39
    tmaytmay Posts: 3,125member
    kkqd1337 said:
    tl:dr. but it says a lot that Apple are proud to promote those awful carpool karaoke videos by Britain's least loved "comedian"  
    Which conveniently won an Emmy.

    https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/8474206/carpool-karaoke-wins-first-creative-arts-emmy

    But, opinions.
    JWSCStrangeDayslordjohnwhorfinRayz2016
  • Reply 3 of 39
    I’m no prude, but TV these days has really gone over the top, particularly with violence and gore. It’s gotten to the point where it’s done just for shock value, just follow the trend. It’s more important to be cool and trendy than to focus on quality storytelling. And it has ruined many a good show to the point where I have lost interest. I don’t want to invest time in watching something only to feel like crap after it’s over because of all the buckets of blood spilled. I was actually pleased to see that Apple is not just going to follow the herd. Perhaps they’ll have a show or two that I can actually watch without feeling it was directed by Cannibal Corpse. 
    camcracerhomie3LoneStar88patchythepirateDAalsethgenovellemacpluspluspscooter63Rayz2016
  • Reply 4 of 39
    tmay said:
    kkqd1337 said:
    tl:dr. but it says a lot that Apple are proud to promote those awful carpool karaoke videos by Britain's least loved "comedian"  
    Which conveniently won an Emmy.

    https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/8474206/carpool-karaoke-wins-first-creative-arts-emmy

    But, opinions.
    I literally Laughed Out Loud.

    America. James Corden is yours to keep. Love Britain. 
  • Reply 5 of 39
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,553member
    World has grown to be arrogant,ignorant and thinks good old values are no good. So, Apple should come up with multiple channels or packages that categorizes into family, family + R-rated. Let people decide what they like to watch. At least critics won't complain against Apple's values and ethics.
  • Reply 6 of 39
    Overall, I think Apple is simply saying "we're not going to produce R-rated content". I'm not sure you can really term that as limiting creative freedom, since R itself represents certain boundaries. Then you also have the added creative limitations of budget and schedules anyway, so I'm not sure it's that big of a deal. PG-13 and below is probably the most lucrative segment of the film/TV industry as well.
    edited September 26 StrangeDayschasmpscooter63fred steinRayz2016
  • Reply 7 of 39
    512ke512ke Posts: 770member
    I guess Apple will be removing a lot of music from Apple Music because it deals with adult language and themes.

    And also they will be taking down a lot of games from the app store because they have violent adult images and themes.

    I look forward to the rebranding of the company, Apple Jr.

    One of the reasons that this is golden age of TV, is that showrunners have a bit more ability to express their voice. That's what I want from a show, to be told a story from somebody's POV. 

    If Apple can deliver that, respect artists, AND it's family-friendly, great. 
    larrya
  • Reply 8 of 39
    croprcropr Posts: 833member
    I wonder if Apple will stick to this family friendly attitude on a world-wide scale.  When Disney launched  Euro Disney in Paris, Disney had to abandon very quickly the no alcohol policy because the European customers complained.

    I can imagine similar complaints about nudity for Apple produced content
  • Reply 9 of 39
    I am with Tim Cook & Eddy Que on this one. Apple should definitely think different than random sex & violence.
    Dead_Poolmacplusplus
  • Reply 10 of 39
    This is exactly what I want in my household. Seriously, take my money!
  • Reply 11 of 39
    I am with Tim Cook & Eddy Que on this one. Apple should definitely think different than random sex & violence.

    Do you think that should include what they sell on iTunes and have available to stream on Apple Music? Or is this different because Apple is directly funding the creation of the content not just taking a percentage of sales?
  • Reply 12 of 39
    I am with Tim Cook & Eddy Que on this one. Apple should definitely think different than random sex & violence.

    Do you think that should include what they sell on iTunes and have available to stream on Apple Music? Or is this different because Apple is directly funding the creation of the content not just taking a percentage of sales?
    Reselling music, TV, and film isn’t the same as spending your own dime producing it out of thin air.

    As a free citizen, Apple is free is pursue any sort art creation it choose. Chiding it as a “restriction of free speech” is a severe misunderstanding of what the freedom of speech means in the US. It’s comical really, as it boils down to “But you have to hire me!” Nope. They don’t. They’re free to produce nothing but kid cartoons if that’s what they want to create. You can’t force someone to make art you want them to make. 

    Also, it’s amazing that network television survived and thrived for decades free of R-rated content, nudity, etc. Oops. 

    Silly controversy. 

    (which is not to say I don’t prefer mature content. I enjoyed it just fine, and pay for it, but I also recognize Apple’s rights here)
    edited September 26 macplusplusRayz2016Drew354beowulfschmidt
  • Reply 13 of 39
    Dead_Pool said:
    I’m no prude, but TV these days has really gone over the top, particularly with violence and gore. It’s gotten to the point where it’s done just for shock value, just follow the trend. It’s more important to be cool and trendy than to focus on quality storytelling. And it has ruined many a good show to the point where I have lost interest. I don’t want to invest time in watching something only to feel like crap after it’s over because of all the buckets of blood spilled. I was actually pleased to see that Apple is not just going to follow the herd. Perhaps they’ll have a show or two that I can actually watch without feeling it was directed by Cannibal Corpse. 
    Agreed! I loved the original Pixar productions. No hint of sex, violence, etc.
    macplusplusRayz2016
  • Reply 14 of 39
    As someone above commented Apple could do a Disney and rebrand the "not for the kids" entertainment into a side label or studio. However I am not sure how that world work since the Apple brand is, nor has ever been about anything but consumer products and squeaky clean and purposely neutral to reach a global market and as many cultures as possible. 

    Will Apple ever be prepared for an occasional controversy over an Apple branded piece of entertainment? They could pull it off the way the big Hollywood studios do it, censor everything which would ruffle feathers of "less progressive countries" and just keep the violence which sadly everyone in the world seems to thing is "normal"
  • Reply 15 of 39
    Apple's rules sounds very much like the rules European state TV stations operated under in the 70-ties. Boring, political correct, uninspiring, following the party line. 
    larrya
  • Reply 16 of 39
    I am with Tim Cook & Eddy Que on this one. Apple should definitely think different than random sex & violence.

    Do you think that should include what they sell on iTunes and have available to stream on Apple Music? Or is this different because Apple is directly funding the creation of the content not just taking a percentage of sales?
    I agree with Carolina Milanesi (Consumer Analyst at Creative Strategies:

    https://techpinions.com/i-would-not-think-less-of-apple-for-producing-the-next-game-of-thrones/53727

    "When I think of Apple, I think of quality and a consumer first approach. I would expect the same from their video service as well. Quality that will avoid cheap use of nudity, violence, and language. This does not mean that I expect Apple to focus on family friendly content only.

    Once the quality of content is taken care of, I expect Apple to go beyond the standard classification of content by making it easy for users to assess whether the content is right for them or their family members and manage access of such content accordingly.

    If you think about it, this approach would be no different from what Apple is doing with “the big bad internet” where Apple is not censoring behavior, but they are helping me monitor and manage when websites are trying to track me or my information. The approach would also align quite nicely with Apple News where Apple is focusing on delivering quality content and helping users avoid “fake news."

    edited September 26
  • Reply 17 of 39
    This might be a smart move on Apple's part. I agree with Dead_Pool above. TV and movies have gone about as far with sex and violence, and CGI absurdity. I think more and more people are looking for good scripts, with uplifting stories told realistically. Add to this the aging demographic and people wanting to be able to watch shows with their kids and you have a market for tamer, but well written and acted fare. . I think Apple might be ahead of the curve.
    edited September 26 Rayz2016
  • Reply 18 of 39
    wood1208 said:
    World has grown to be arrogant,ignorant and thinks good old values are no good. So, Apple should come up with multiple channels or packages that categorizes into family, family + R-rated. Let people decide what they like to watch. At least critics won't complain against Apple's values and ethics.
    Apple TV presents all the R-rated content via their competitors. They just won’t be creating any of that with their name attached. It’s the same as HBO not focusing on family content. 

    StrangeDaysRayz2016
  • Reply 19 of 39
    DAalseth said:
    This might be a smart move on Apple's part. I agree with Dead_Pool above. TV and movies have gone about as far with sex and violence, and CGI absurdity. I think more and more people are looking for good scripts, with uplifting stories told realistically. Add to this the aging demographic and people wanting to be able to watch shows with their kids and you have a market for tamer, but well written and acted fare. . I think Apple might be ahead of the curve.
    The irony of you agreeing with a poster named Dead_Pool on this subject is just too hilarious. I'm not criticizing you, but it is quite funny.
    larrya
  • Reply 20 of 39
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,550member
    Dead_Pool said:
    I’m no prude, but TV these days has really gone over the top, particularly with violence and gore. It’s gotten to the point where it’s done just for shock value, just follow the trend. It’s more important to be cool and trendy than to focus on quality storytelling. And it has ruined many a good show to the point where I have lost interest. I don’t want to invest time in watching something only to feel like crap after it’s over because of all the buckets of blood spilled. I was actually pleased to see that Apple is not just going to follow the herd. Perhaps they’ll have a show or two that I can actually watch without feeling it was directed by Cannibal Corpse. 
    In some ways I agree with you with respect to TV.    The problem as used it is that there is an off button for these services.    As such I see it as a bad idea to hand off a service like this to corporate sensorship.   In the end it is all about personal preference or desire.  

    Sometime ago I leveraged my right to control my enertainment by dropping cable completely.  That was mostly driven by the high prices for largely marginal programming.  By the way much of that marginal programming was the watered down crap Apple seems to be going after.   

    In in the end I really think that Apple needs to smarten ups bit.    A way to handle this would be to create networks or channels with different focuses.    This way customers can handle the censorship themselves and thus avoid a world that is managed by a mega corporation.    Frankly I’d hate to have too live in Cooks vision of the world.   His idea of hate speech seems to be any opinion that differs from his.     Nobody should want a person like that censoring your enertainment. 
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