Apple TV+ at six months: No breakthroughs, but plenty of promise

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV
Since its launch on November 1, 2019 Apple TV+ has delivered plenty of quality entertainment, but it hasn't yet produced a massive, culture-grabbing hit.

Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, co-stars of Apple TV+ show The Morning Show
Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, co-stars of Apple TV+ show The Morning Show (Apple)


On November 1, 2019 Apple finally launched its long-in-the-works Apple TV+ streaming service. In the buildup, the company had spent billions of dollars, engaged the services of a long list of A-list performers and filmmakers, and put forth massive advertising efforts, in order to play in the burgeoning field of streaming TV. The launch represented the huge part of Apple's growing emphasis on Services.

Six months after launch, Apple can point to some undeniable creative successes on the service, including some shows that were critically acclaimed, and one that won some awards.

But Apple TV+ has not yet managed to come up with a massive, talked-about, culture-grabbing hit, the kind of show that would occasion the addition of thousands of subscribers, let alone the proliferation of online memes. At about the same time, Disney+ had The Mandalorian, while Netflix had Tiger King.

And of course, there's no way Apple could have known that just months into its launch of the service, circumstances would require the majority of households, in most of the countries in which it operates, to stay home at all times, leading to an explosion in the use of streaming services.

Judging the shows

In its first six months, Apple has released live-action scripted series, as well as children's shows, a handful of documentary series, and five movies.

Apple's Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet
Apple's Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet


That's a lot of content for one entity to put out in six months, and it's clearly much more, in both quantity and quality, than Netflix or Amazon released in their early days. Netflix, let's not forget, didn't release House of Cards until a year after its first streaming show, while Amazon Prime Video's breakout, Transparent, didn't arrive until nearly 18 months after the start of Amazon's original TV efforts.

However, it's a different world now, with a lot more competition, and a lot more to come. And along with that, the potential streaming audience has suddenly skyrocketed, due to social distancing.

Apple's big bet, out of the starting gate, was The Morning Show, with its A-list cast and gravitas-heavy subject matter. While the show got out off to a slow start creatively, possibly due in part to behind-the-scenes turmoil, it improved greatly throughout its season.

The Morning Show won two Screen Actors Guild awards, for Jennifer Aniston and Billy Crudup, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Series.

However, The Morning Show didn't win at the Globes, and of the prestige TV projects Reese Witherspoon has appeared in within the last 18 months, it appeared to make less of a cultural impact than either Big Little Lies or Little Fires Everywhere. No other Apple shows have gotten awards nominations, although most of them were released outside of last year's eligibility window.





Another show at launch, Dickinson, gained positive reviews and appeared to land well with fans of its young star, Hailee Steinfeld. And while both were renewed, neither For All Mankind or See was any kind of phenomenon while Servant, which debuted in late November, seemed to have barely made a blip.

Of shows that arrived later, Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet was a consistently funny and surprising sitcom, while Little America was an often-affecting anthology series about American immigrant stories. Home After Dark, Truth Be Told and Defending Jacob had their moments as well, while Trying, which debuts May 1, is funny and charming.

As for Amazing Stories, it only ran for five episodes -- fewer than expected when it was first announced -- and has notably not received a renewal.

Of Apple's movies and other special programming, Beastie Boys Story was exactly the type of energetic, music-centric show that Apple should be pursuing more of, while Visible: Out on Television was an expertly-assembled look at the history of LGBT people on television.

The movie The Banker, while a fine film, had its original release scuttled after sexual abuse allegations against one of its producers, with coronavirus canceling its brief theatrical release. The film finally arrived, mostly to indifference, in March.

Apple TV+ has made more good shows than bad, but certainly nothing that can be considered a cultural phenomenon.

The numbers

"It is truly amazing how much conflicting and misleading information there is on the Internet about streaming statistics," longtime film journalist David Poland said on Twitter Wednesday. "It's like the world's worst game of telephone."

There's a great deal that we don't know about Apple TV+. There isn't any solid, publicly available data about either subscribers, or viewership for any of the Apple TV+ shows, nor does Apple put out such numbers through their earnings releases.

Apple did not state an Apple TV+ subscriber number in its earnings release or investor call April 30, although it did announce that its Services category, of which Apple TV+ is a part, posted record revenue of $13.3 billion. CFO Luca Maestri said on the call that Apple TV+, along with other new services, "continue to add users, content and features, while contributing to overall Services growth."

TV ratings firm Nielsen has begun to measure the audience of Netflix shows, but has not rolled out anything like that for Apple TV+. There are clues as to how the service is doing, but that information is very much incomplete.

Tim Cook, without citing numbers, called Apple TV+ "a rousing success" in a January interview with Reuters, also stating that the service's performance was "very strong, both the people that are getting it in the bundle and the people that are paying for it that haven't bought a new device."

As of January, Apple TV+ had an estimated 34 million subscribers, according to Ampere Analysis, although the "vast majority" of that estimated number was enjoying the free year that comes with the purchase of an Apple device. Disney+, which launched shortly after Apple TV+, crossed the 50 million subscriber mark in April, although that was three months later, after the start of the pandemic, and based on an officially released number.

Analyst Toni Sacconaghi of Bernstein, per Financial Post, suggested in a February note that the new service was "failing to resonate with customers, perhaps due to its limited content offerings."

Research firm Antenna, as cited by Forbes, measured that every one of the major streaming services saw an increase in signups in the early days of the pandemic in the U.S. in March. However, Antenna also found that Apple TV+ posted a gain of 10 percent, which was the smallest of the services included.

Identity crisis

Apple's Servant (Apple)
Apple's Servant (Apple)


Other than its lack of a breakthrough hit, one thing that's clear after six months is that Apple TV+ doesn't really have an identity. Aside from the vague valuing of quality and middle-to-highbrow programming, there isn't an established house style, or a specific type of show that makes one say "that's an Apple TV+ show" or "that's a great fit with what Apple's doing."

Perhaps that's something that will eventually emerge over time, but it certainly hasn't yet.

Secondly, with Disney+ thriving, HBO Max arriving at the end of May and NBC Universal's Peacock not far behind, Apple TV+ is facing stiffer competition than ever, without the benefit of the extensive back catalogue of old movies and shows offered by its competitors.

And a major part of Apple's launch strategy was clearly to get into business with big names, the sort of people who could show up in person at the company's keynotes and draw media attention to the products with which they're associated.

But in its first sixth months, Apple has not reached any kind of exclusive deal with any big-name creative type. They did bring in former HBO chairman Richard Plepler's production company for an exclusive five-year production deal, but Plepler is better known as a studio executive than as a director or creator of shows.

Plus, the producers Apple has gotten into business with haven't always been the primary creative voices behind their shows.

Steven Spielberg may have appeared at an Apple event last year to talk about his revival of Amazing Stories, but when the actual show arrived Spielberg was not credited as the writer or director for any of the episodes. M. Night Shyamalan, while he did direct two episodes, was not the showrunner for Servant.

Reasons for optimism

There are, however, plenty of reasons to not count Apple TV+ out. Apple has continued to dedicate massive financial resources to the venture, and there's no indication that Tim Cook or any other top executive has lost any faith in the project.

And, it can wait. It has the financial resources to just keep producing shows without a tangible return for years, if not decades.

The Beastie Boys, in Apple's Beastie Boys Story
The Beastie Boys, in Apple's Beastie Boys Story


Apple has renewed all of the original live action shows that have already debuted, with the exception of Amazing Stories, while Defending Jacob is a limited series. The service has all of those second seasons on the way, as well as another phase of new originals, although Apple has had to shut down production on several shows due to coronavirus, including The Morning Show, the Isaac Asimov adaptation Foundation, and the Ben Stiller-produced workplace series Severance.

Promising-sounding upcoming series include the J.J. Abrams-produced Little Voice, the animated comedy series Central Park , a CIA-based show starring Brie Larson and Masters of the Air, a World War II-set miniseries produced by Spielberg and Tom Hanks, which is the first-ever series from Apple's in-house production studio.

The tie-up with Plepler is intriguing, since he was the executive in charge of HBO at a time when they were churning out acclaimed hits regularly. HBO's longtime strategy of emphasizing quality over quantity appears to be a good fit for what Apple is attempting to do, and Plepler reportedly left HBO because, under new owner AT&T, they were getting away from that strategy.

Apple also still has a deal with the highly-regarded film distributor A24 to develop movies together, which will include the upcoming Bill Murray starrer On The Rocks, and Apple is also making a movie with Mahershala Ali, who has won two Oscars in the last four years. There was even a report Apple is considering a bid on college football streaming rights.

Longer term, Apple has other opportunities to grow Apple TV+. With all of the traditional Hollywood studios struggling due to the theater shutdowns, Apple, with its massive cash reserves, could see an opportunity for an acquisition spree.

Apple is in a unique position to buy a distressed movie studio like Paramount, Sony, or a smaller one like Lionsgate. The company could also simply buy the rights to some legacy movie and TV content to make available for Apple TV+ subscribers, or even as intellectual property for future development.

And, if Disney as a whole went up for sale, Apple is, financially speaking, one of a very small handful of companies on the planet that could make a realistic play for it. While this rumor pops up with alarming frequency, this seems unlikely, though.

The next six months

Apple has clearly had a mixed start to its original streaming efforts, without any kind of massive hit in the first six months. But Apple TV+ does maintain the advantages of money and stability, as well as what looks like the firm support of the company's leadership.

We're very early in the streaming wars, and there's a good chance the landscape will look completely different a year from now, no matter what happens with coronavirus. And the longer Apple keeps making new content, the more likely the company is to find that breakthrough show or movie.

It's just not here yet, and doesn't appear imminent.
«1

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 27
    MacQcMacQc Posts: 14member
    We haven’t watch Netflix for about a month I think as we are watching Apple TV+. I’m not sure we would pay directly for it, but it surely gives a great added value to buy an Apple product as we get one year free. 
    lolliverBeats
  • Reply 2 of 27
    trashman69trashman69 Posts: 161member
    Apple TV+ has a long way to go.  

    they need to get  more quality content.   Times ticking.  My free subscription will be finished this
    sept...and like millions of others - there is no way I will renew.  

    watched servant last week.  Loved it.  One of the best shows I have seen.  Sadly the rest of 
    the content was incredibly boring.  

    Also - not sure why Cook is so obsessed with Oprah Winfrey.  
    mwhiteElCapitanchemengin1
  • Reply 3 of 27
    lolliverlolliver Posts: 429member
    MacQc said:
    We haven’t watch Netflix for about a month I think as we are watching Apple TV+. I’m not sure we would pay directly for it, but it surely gives a great added value to buy an Apple product as we get one year free. 
    We are enjoying watching Apple TV+ also. We haven't completely stopped using Netflix but it is becoming increasingly rarer. While their hasn't been a huge breakout hit for Apple TV+ their focus on quality over quantity is very apparent. I can see us paying for it after the first 12 months free provided they continue to release at least 1-2 shows a month that interest me. I'd rather being paying the lower fees for services like Disney+ and Apple TV+ to get a few quality new shows than pay the higher cost of Netflix to get a large number of average shows with the rare decent show. 
    xanityplus
  • Reply 4 of 27
    paul yeopaul yeo Posts: 5member
    I think the pace of the shows is too slow. I only enjoyed Home Before Dark and Amazing Stories, but their pace can be faster. Servant is the slowest, I can't even finish it
  • Reply 5 of 27
    darkpawdarkpaw Posts: 207member
    I think Apple TV+ is a bit naff. Servant was good (took ages to get where it was going), but I have no interest in "Home", "The Beastie Boys Story", or anything about Oprah Winfrey. Apple TV+ should cater to everyone, and release shows in all genres. Sticking to drama and playing it safe with nothing rated higher than a 15 makes it lame. Also, Oprah Winfrey is very much a US thing; release something that's not US-centric. I won't be renewing when my free year ends.

    It's also partly because Apple have made it so non-obvious to find anything TV+-related in the TV app.

    I'm in the iPad's TV app right now. There are tabs for "Watch Now", "Library" and "Search", but there's no specific tab for Apple TV+. You have to scroll down in Watch Now to the horizontal list of channels, and tap the "tv+" icon in "My Channels" to get a full-screen page of Apple TV+ shows. (And those channel buttons are the smallest icons on the Watch Now screen.)

    It makes you forget that you've got a subscription. This should be easier. Just add its own tab and I can see at a glance exactly what I can watch on TV+.

    The app also suffers the same problem as Amazon Prime Video. Lists and lists of things to watch, and almost every time I tap on something I have to buy or rent it. Because of this, I now just watch things via the Library tab (which has its own problems...).
    steveauminicoffee
  • Reply 6 of 27
    Track_10Track_10 Posts: 8member
    I've enjoyed The Morning Show, The Servant, Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet, HOME, Dickinson, Trying, and Little America. I look forward to all these shows' second seasons.

    I also loved the Beasties Story and hope Apple makes more music documentaries. 

    Its too bad the expectations are so high for Apple because I feel many of these shows would be considered breaking through shows if Netflix or Hulu released them.  The quality is so high. 

    My only problem I've seen is with their crime dramas being too slow, flashback heavy, and predictable (Defending Jacob, Truth Be Told and Home Before Dark).  That being said, I liked most of Home Before Dark.

    edited May 2020 steveauBeatslolliver
  • Reply 7 of 27
    ElCapitanElCapitan Posts: 372member
    To be successful they need to produce for a much wider and diverse (international) audience. For that to happen they need to stick their heads outside the US centric, political correct, California box it is currently stuck in, and discover there is a whole planet out there with cultures, ideas and lifestyles that often will fly right in the Apple corporate face, but still are rich, fascinating, dramatic, often violent, have great love stories and heroism, and have histories centuries longer then the American.

    I remember a quote from a US newscast in the 90s where someone said "the only mad cow in America is Oprah Winfrey"  – I think that is widely the feeling about her outside the US. 
    edited May 2020 elijahgHank2.0
  • Reply 8 of 27
    steveausteveau Posts: 291member
    ElCapitan said:
    To be successful they need to produce for a much wider and diverse (international) audience. For that to happen they need to stick their heads outside the US centric, political correct, California box it is currently stuck in, and discover there is a whole planet out there with cultures, ideas and lifestyles that often will fly right in the Apple corporate face, but still are rich, fascinating, dramatic, often violent, have great love stories and heroism, and have histories centuries longer then the American. 
    Agree completely! They should send out scouts to all of the countries that have a film/TV industry of note. Remember House of Cards is an adaptation of the 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name. Also, why can't I just buy AppleTV+ shows direct, one-by-one. Many Netflix, HBO, Disney, etc. shows are available to buy in iTunes/AppleTV.
    ElCapitanHank2.0asdasd
  • Reply 9 of 27
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 5,904member
    I don't have enough free time to merit paying for TV subscription but do have Amazon Prime Video and they have just launched their rental and purchasing options here. People are NOT happy as they have pulled some films from the 'included with Prime' roster and made them paid options. Some popular series have also vanished of late. Other series remain incomplete for too long or are missing dubbed options. Rare missteps for Amazon here in Spain which might play to Apple's favour at some point. 
  • Reply 10 of 27
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,382member
    Neither GOT nor WW became such massive hits purely due to the production quality, storylines, and acting. They, of course, had all those elements in spades but also a very heavy dose of the tried and tested magic ingredient, an emphasis on naked people.   That has been a long time proven key to success in art forms. Just check out everything from oil paintings through photography and of course VHS! AppleTV would require its own 'walk of shame' to have such a breakthrough hit.
    minicoffee
  • Reply 11 of 27
    “No other Apple shows have gotten awards nominations” — Well, plenty have actually been nominated and some have won. There’s more high honors out there than just Emmys, SAGs, and Globes. Here’s a more comprehensive list of awards nominations and wins Apple Originals have to their name:

    See — Visual Effects Society Awards (Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode) — 1x Nominated

    Truth Be Told — NAACP Awards (Outstanding Actress for Octavia Spencer, and Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series for Nichelle Spellman) — 2x Nominated 

    Dickinson — GLAAD Media Awards (Outstanding Comedy Series) — 1x Nominated

    The Elephant Queen — Cinema for Peace Awards (International Green Film) — 1x Nominated — WON

    The Elephant Queen — Critics Choice Movie Awards (Best Nature Documentary, Best Narration) — 2x Nominated

    The Morning Show — Critics Choice Television Awards (Best Supporting Actor for Billy Crudup) — 1x Nominated, WON

    The Morning Show — Golden Globe Awards (Best Television Drama, Best Actress for Jennifer Aniston, Best Actress for Reese Witherspoon) — 3x Nominated

    The Morning Show — SAG Awards (Outstanding Performance by Female for Jennifer Aniston, Outstanding Performance by Male for Steve Carrell and Billy Crudup) — 3x Nominated, 1x WON

    Helpsters — Parents Choice Awards Winner

    Snoopy in Space — Parents Choice Awards Winner, Nominated for Annie Awards

    Ghostwriter — Parents Choice Awards Winner, Nominated for Directors Guild Awards 

    lolliver
  • Reply 12 of 27
    robertsmrobertsm Posts: 48member
    Apples hope to break through is Masters of Air. At hbo it’s rumored budget was Purportedly $500,000,000 for ten episodes.  Apple needs to hit a grand slam with that miniseries.   
  • Reply 13 of 27
    We’re really enjoying Home and are enjoying hearing about the story behind the house.  Some of the story’s are better than others.

    We also loved watching The Morning Show.  I think expectations were too high but a solid show nonetheless IMO.
    dewmelolliver
  • Reply 14 of 27
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 17,673member
    Apple is in a unique position to buy a distressed movie studio like Paramount, Sony, or a smaller one like Lionsgate. The company could also simply buy the rights to some legacy movie and TV content to make available for Apple TV+ subscribers, or even as intellectual property for future development. 

    This.  It's what Apple has to do.  They need to massively expand content.  I bought a new Apple TV two weeks ago, and I haven't watched a single show.  I'll get around to Beastie Boys, but there is nothing that really grabs me.   Imagine if Apple TV was the new home of 4K HDR Star Trek movies?  That would be the kind of thing that draws people.  
  • Reply 15 of 27
    Plenty of promise? What is the justification for this?

    Any objective observer could see before the launch that AppleTV+ was a complete miss. No one cares about 100% originals. Originals are meant as a supplement to a wider catalog that people are actually subscribing for. If you followed commentary on the unjustified non-stop articles published about AppleTV+ in the lead up to it, you saw how confused people were... thinking it actually did include non-original content.

    And it is well known that Apple tried and failed for years to negotiate the rights to streaming subscriptions for their video store. They knew this is what people really wanted. But they failed. Instead, what we got was Apple TV Channels, with AppleTV+ being one of them. The sum total of which is: Far more expensive and far less content than what anyone was hoping for.

    It is hard to say there is any "promise" here, given the history this has in getting to market.
    chemengin1asdasd
  • Reply 16 of 27
    Hank2.0Hank2.0 Posts: 129member
    steveau said:
    ElCapitan said:
    To be successful they need to produce for a much wider and diverse (international) audience. For that to happen they need to stick their heads outside the US centric, political correct, California box it is currently stuck in, and discover there is a whole planet out there with cultures, ideas and lifestyles that often will fly right in the Apple corporate face, but still are rich, fascinating, dramatic, often violent, have great love stories and heroism, and have histories centuries longer then the American. 
    Agree completely! They should send out scouts to all of the countries that have a film/TV industry of note. Remember House of Cards is an adaptation of the 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name. Also, why can't I just buy AppleTV+ shows direct, one-by-one. Many Netflix, HBO, Disney, etc. shows are available to buy in iTunes/AppleTV.
    Amen. While sitting at home in quasi-quarantine, I want entertainment that takes me away from the constant bombardment of COVID-19 and electoral backstabbing. I do not want or need touchy-feely episodes "of great social and political import". I quit AppleTV+, signed up with Acorn to supplement my Amazon Prime, and explored the abundant entertainment available from Great Britain and Australia. I don't miss AppleTV+ at all.
  • Reply 17 of 27
    bennettvistabennettvista Posts: 175member
    For this to work Apple needs to buy a studio (like Paramount for instance) so that they can develop more risqué films and TV shows without tarnishing the "Apple Brand" - they need a "Beats" type offshoot to create edgier and more interesting stuff. Buy Paramount or another famous studio, acquire their back catalog and their creative teams and get to work. Apple+ programming is "vanilla" at best - family bland stuff that doesn't offend anyone and doesn't get anyone excited either.
    asdasd
  • Reply 18 of 27
    I have subscribed to Apple TV since it first launched in the UK at £4.99 a month.  We have watched at least one series each month which seems good value. Certainly the quality has been very good as far as I am concerned though these things are always a question of taste.
    Beats
  • Reply 19 of 27
    jabohnjabohn Posts: 563member
    darkpaw said:
    It's also partly because Apple have made it so non-obvious to find anything TV+-related in the TV app.

    I'm in the iPad's TV app right now. There are tabs for "Watch Now", "Library" and "Search", but there's no specific tab for Apple TV+. You have to scroll down in Watch Now to the horizontal list of channels, and tap the "tv+" icon in "My Channels" to get a full-screen page of Apple TV+ shows. (And those channel buttons are the smallest icons on the Watch Now screen.)

    It makes you forget that you've got a subscription. This should be easier. Just add its own tab and I can see at a glance exactly what I can watch on TV+.

    The app also suffers the same problem as Amazon Prime Video. Lists and lists of things to watch, and almost every time I tap on something I have to buy or rent it. Because of this, I now just watch things via the Library tab (which has its own problems...).
    I think this is one of the main problems. This issue was touched on by other sites that did a 6-month review, but for some reason not AppleInsider who only focussed on content. The TV app is a confusing mess. You can't easily find what you paid for in your TV+ subscription. It should be a tab at the top of the screen. I keep forgetting that I have a subscription. I only know what new shows there are by seeing them on news websites. The last one I watched was Servant and I finished that over a month ago.
    Beats
  • Reply 20 of 27
    asdasdasdasd Posts: 5,670member
    Track_10 said:
    I've enjoyed The Morning Show, The Servant, Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet, HOME, Dickinson, Trying, and Little America. I look forward to all these shows' second seasons.

    I also loved the Beasties Story and hope Apple makes more music documentaries. 

    Its too bad the expectations are so high for Apple because I feel many of these shows would be considered breaking through shows if Netflix or Hulu released them.  The quality is so high. 

    My only problem I've seen is with their crime dramas being too slow, flashback heavy, and predictable (Defending Jacob, Truth Be Told and Home Before Dark).  That being said, I liked most of Home Before Dark.

    Disney just has the mandelorian. But they have a huge back catalogue. Apple needs to buy one. 
    SpamSandwich
Sign In or Register to comment.