Cutting the cord. It describes our desire to shift away from expensive linear television service packages with thousands of channels to a curated selection of content through a subscription-based over-the-top (OTT) service. Streaming TV has been on the rise, and Netflix is the constant. But other services have come (and gone). And now, Apple wants in.
Netflix is the dominant player in Canada, finding its way into many a Canadian household, or on many a mobile device. The company has partnerships with all of the major hardware companies, such that you can access Netflix easily from a wide range of smart TVs, streaming sticks and media boxes, mobile devices, and even gaming consoles. Rogers, one of the "big three" media conglomerates north of the border, tried to grab its slice of the streaming TV pie with shomi, but that service petered out. Bell has been doing well with CraveTV, now known as Crave, thanks to a strong line-up of library content from the networks with which Bell Media owns in Canada, including HBO Canada and Showtime, as well as a hot selection of original series, like Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale and homegrown Canadian series Letterkenny. Once Amazon launched Prime Video in Canada, meanwhile, millions of Prime subscribers instantly got access to Prime Video as part of their standard subscription. As Amazon started to get recognized at awards shows for its original series and movies like Transparent and Manchester by the Sea, the industry looked at Amazon as a serious entertainment content contender, too.
Apple had already been toying with original series, like Carpool Karaoke: The Series and Shark Tank-like show based on app ideas called Planet of the Apps. But last week, the company officially took the wraps off Apple TV+, which offers an impressive roster of exclusive original series, movies, and documentaries, with support from Hollywood heavyweights like Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Reese Witherspoon, J.J. Abrams, and Octavia Spencer. One of the most anticipated series is called The Morning Show, which looks at the behind-the-scenes of a morning television show. It will star Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, who will also serve as producers. Steve Carell will also appear. Winfrey's projects, meanwhile, will range from movies to TV series, apps, and books, all made available through Apple via a multiyear agreement. Other original series range from a program about a young musician in New York City trying to find herself (starring singer Sarah Bareilles), to an anthology series about immigrants in America (by The Big Sick's Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon), and a fantasy apocalyptic series with Aquaman's Jason Momoa.
Through the new Apple TV app, users will also be able to sign on for a la carte channels once the service becomes available in the Fall, including HBO, Starz, and Showtime, watching on demand, both online and off. And the new Apple TV apps also offer access to services like Prime Video, Crave, and, in the U.S., Hulu. So you can get your fill of OTT TV, all through Apple products and services.
We already know that people are on board with streaming TV in general: many Millennials and Gen-Zers have never signed up for a linear TV subscription, knowing only the world of streaming and videos on YouTube. But will they be receptive to Apple+? There are a number of factors that will determine Apple's success in this space.
Pricing for the streaming service hasn't been confirmed yet, and that could be a big determining factor. Accessibility isn't an issue. Apple TVs are already found in many homes. And when they aren't, Apple's partnership with Samsung, the top TV brand, to offer its app through the company's smart TVs, further solidifies Apple's position in the living room. Plus, AirPlay 2 support, coming later this year to select Vizio, Samsung, LG, and Sony smart TVs, will make it even easier to stream Apple+ content to the big screen.
Speaking of content, that's the bread and butter of any streaming TV service. And success requires a good selection of both library network content and quality original series. Netflix, Prime Video, and Crave have all done a great job in snagging a great mix of high-quality content that has been well-received by viewers and lauded by critics. Each service has an anchor series, or more. With Netflix, it's originals like Stranger Things and library titles like FRIENDS. With Crave, it's originals like Letterkenny, deals for Canadian streaming rights to series like The Handmaid's Tale, and a vast HBO library that includes the highly popular series Game of Thrones. And with Amazon, it's award-winning series like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and library sitcoms like Parks and Recreation. With A-list support behind Apple+, the expectations are high that content will be top-notch. Apple also says that the new Apple TV app will serve as home to "hundreds of thousands of movies and TV shows currently available for purchase or rent in the iTunes Store."
Predicting that Apple+ will launch in the $10-$15/mo. range (in Canada) to fall in line with competitors (pricing hasn't yet been confirmed), it still means customers can sign on to several streaming services and still pay less than they would for a cable or satellite TV package. (This is assuming that they can also get an affordable and/or unlimited Internet package to accommodate all the viewing).
But many customers have already selected the service of their choice. Will they be willing to cancel one service in order to give Apple+ a try? Will they suck it up and pay for Apple+ in addition to their existing subscriptions? With Netflix having just gone up in price (again), and Crave adjusting its pricing structure, and offering a separate subscription that also includes HBO series, streamers might be hesitant to add yet another line to their credit card bills in the entertainment category, especially having just accepted that they will have to pay more for the ones they already have.
But curiousity might prevail. Will the content be any good? It might be too tempting to resist finding out.
Apple has one advantage over Netflix, Crave, and Amazon: it owns some of the devices that consumers will use to watch the content, including the iPhone and iPad. On the big screen, the company's partnership with Samsung immediately makes seamless accessibility instant for owners of compatible TVs. Amazon, however, does have Fire TVs with partners like Toshiba, as well as a strong line-up of affordable streaming devices like the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick.
Apple already has many customers tied in to recurring billing through iTunes and iCloud, too, which gives it a second advantage. But Crave has the same with existing Bell customers, whether it's for mobile and/or television and/or Internet. And with Amazon now offering more flexible Prime subscriptions in Canada, including month-to-month options, Prime Video is an affordable added value for many who sign on predominantly for free shipping on purchases.
So where does Apple+ fit into the equation, especially as the company is entering so late in the game? Will Apple offer something truly worthwhile, or just become another player in the me-too game? We'll find out this Fall.