Apple is streaming it safe and reportedly avoiding edgier original content, as it prepares to launch its new TV platform.
Between Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO, NOW TV and YouTube Premium, the gap in the market for a new subscription streaming service is narrow, as competition heats up between all the platforms and broadcasters fighting for eyeballs. While prices, devices and video quality all matter, the most important weapon in the online video landscape is content, with Netflix’s unrivalled investment in original productions keeping it ahead of the pack. Netflix is spending around $8 billion a year, compared to Amazon’s $5 billion, while Apple is thought to be investing around $1 billion.
That conservative approach, though, is applying to more than its spending, as The WSJ reveals Apple’s strategy towards the type of content it’s happy to release. Vital Signs, the paper revealed this week, was a series based on the life of Dr. Dre, but was ultimately rejected by CEO Tim Cook because it was too violent and dark, featuring drugs, guns and sex. As a result, Cook vetoed on moving the project forward, steering instead towards safer content.
The reason is part of what makes Apple different from everyone else: just as Amazon Studios has an online empire behind it, so does Apple, with an in-built customer base of iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch users. With customers and a commercial legacy come shareholders and brand reputation, which means that Apple has to take care not to damage its company image and, in turn, the sales of its products. Netflix, on the other hand, has lower stakes if it produces offensive or controversial content: it loses subscribers, but the fallout stops there.
Apple, therefore, is keen to attract big stars and produce shows with broad appeal, but is avoiding gratuitous content or high levels of profanity – a stark contrast to Netflix’s House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black and more. The WSJ reports that this has already impacted other productions, from Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston’s morning TV comedy, which has been reportedly toned down, while M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller allegedly had to remove crucifixes from the homes of its characters, to avoid offending or alienating religious audiences. Cook’s aiming, rather, for shows such as Madame Secretary and Friday Night Lights. Apple has commissioned a variety of titles so far, including a sci-fi series from Ron D. Moore and an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series but while it is possible for genre efforts such as Stranger Things to be dark without gratuitous or explicit content, it’s a tricky line to tread.
It takes Apple’s fledgling TV service closer to NBC territory than the VOD arena; a unique stance in the streaming world, but unique in potentially the wrong way. Riskier than that, though, is that as these issues play out behind the scenes, Apple has once again delayed the launch of its service: it has reportedly moved it back from the end of 2018 to March next year. Whether streaming it safe pays off or not, we’re still some way from finding out. In the meantime, keep up-to-date with the latest Apple projects in development here.