Apple Drops Subscription Gaming Platform Price, Eyeing Content Bundles

Apple, like much of the tech world, has gone to a subscription-based business model to offset slowing iPhone sales.

In addition to launching Apple TV+, Apple bowed gaming-themed Apple Arcade and news-based Apple News+. Now, the company is cutting $10 from Arcade when paying the full $49 annual price compared to the $4.99 monthly fee.

Arcade aims to offer myriad online games (playable on iPhone, iPad, etc.) akin to what Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video do with movies and TV shows. Notable titles include Where Cards Fall, Grindstone, What the Golf? and Sayonara Wild Herts, among others.

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Apple is also reportedly considering bundling platforms similarly to what Disney is doing with Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ and what Amazon does with Amazon Channels. The idea, as reported by Bloomberg, would bundle Apple Music, Apple News+ and Apple TV+ for a discounted price beginning in 2020.

The idea has apparently been met with pushback from traditional news publishers leery of giving away more of their shrinking margins. Apple currently pockets 50% of all subscription revenue, while the remainder is split among publishers depending on the number of eyeballs to their content.

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CNBC reports that consumer interest in Apple News+ — unlike Apple Music — has been limited due in large part to increasing numbers of people getting their news from social media and alternative online sources for free.

Apple Makes Golden Globe History with ‘The Morning Show’ Nominations

Upstart Apple TV+ made history of sorts becoming the first SVOD service to receive Golden Globe nominations (“The Morning Show”) in its first year of service.

The service received a Best Television Series — Drama nomination in addition to dual nominations for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Drama for stars and executive producers Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. The series also stars Steve Carell.

The awards will be presented at the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 5, 2020.

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Apple TV+ ($4.99) launched Nov. 1, representing the tech giant’s foray into OTT distribution.

“The Morning Show” explores the cutthroat world of morning news and the lives of the people who help America wake up in the morning. Told through the lens of two complicated women working to navigate the minefield of high-octane jobs, while facing crises in both their personal and professional lives.

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The nominations are also the first drama TV actress nominations for both Aniston and Witherspoon. Aniston is now only the fourth person in history to receive Golden Globe nominations for both TV Comedy and Drama, Lead Actress.

“Thank you to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for today’s historic nominations,” Zack Van Amburg, Apple’s head of worldwide video, said in a statement. “[T]oday’s nominations are a true testament to the powerful storytelling that went into ‘The Morning Show,’ as well as all of our Apple Originals.”

Despite reported struggles gaining consumer traction (in comparison with Disney+), Apple said “The Morning Show” is resonating with audiences globally.

“We cannot wait to continue exploring the world of ‘The Morning Show’ into season two,” said Jamie Erlicht, Apple’s head of worldwide video.

“The Morning Show” streams exclusively on Apple TV+ on the Apple TV app, with new episodes premiering worldwide every Friday. The season finale premieres on Dec. 20.

Apple TV App Now Available on Amazon Fire TV

Amazon Oct. 24 announced that Fire TV users in more than 60 countries can download the Apple TV app — affording first-time access to iTunes movies, TV shows and channels purchased.

The app will enable Fire TV users on Nov. 1 to subscribe to Apple TV +, Apple’s new SVOD service featuring original and catalog programming, including “The Morning Show,” “Dickinson,” “See,” “For All Mankind” and “The Elephant Queen.”

The announcement is significant as it underscores Apple’s willingness to expand beyond its branded iOS ecosystem.

Viewers can also use the Alexa Voice Remote or a paired Echo device for far-field voice control.

The Apple TV app is available for Fire TV Stick (2nd Gen) and Fire TV Stick 4K, in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and India. Fire TV Basic Edition can also start using the app in more than 50 countries, including Australia, Austria, New Zealand, Brazil, Ireland and Mexico.

The app will be coming soon to the Fire TV Cube (1st- and 2nd-gen), Fire TV (3rd-gen pendant design), Fire TV Edition smart TVs and Nebula sound bar.

IHS: Apple TV+ Growth Hindered by iOS Mandate

When Apple bows its branded $4.99 monthly Apple TV+ subscription streaming video service on Nov. 1, it will be the cheapest SVOD platform on the market.

But being priced 50% below Netflix apparently isn’t good enough for IHS Markit, which suggests the service’s growth will be hampered by its exclusivity to Apple’s iOS platform.

Apple TV+ will be limited to the new iPhone, Mac, iPad and Apple TV streaming media device. The company is offering a free year of Apple TV+ with the purchase of any of the aforementioned devices.

Indeed, Apple is projected to sell about 70 million new iPhones through the winter holidays, in addition to Macs, iPads and Apple TVs.

Yet the data underscores the reality that Apple TV+ will have the potential to reach just 57% of the addressable market ion the United States, according to IHS Markit.

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By comparison, Netflix reaches 95% of the U.S. market — a percentage the pending Disney+ platform is expected to emulate.

“With its limited device distribution, Apple TV+ will be accessible to just over half the online population in the US, thus hindering subscriber growth,” analyst Fateha Begum said in a note. “Although Apple is the largest smartphone brand in the U.S. market and plans to offer free access with hardware purchases, the company would need to widen its device distribution to compete with OTT players that are now available nearly universally.”

Begum argues Apple should move beyond its iOS borders and make Apple TV+ available to Android devices. Indeed, the SVOD service is expected to be made available on Roku and Fire TV, in addition to Sony, LG and Vizio smart TVs.

“By opening up to other platforms, Apple TV+ will see its addressable base increase by 24% to 87 million U.S. households,” Begum said. “This will improve Apple’s position, but the company will still be at a disadvantage compared to competitors who can address the entire U.S. market of 124 million online households.”

 

Reports: Amazon Prime App Unavailable on Apple TV and iOS App Store

The Amazon Prime Video app disappeared Friday, Oct. 4, from Apple’s app store and Apple TV, according to news and social media reports.

“The developer has removed this app from the App Store,” is the notice that many mobile users received, according to reports. “Item not available” was another message when trying to download the app.

The app was also missing from Apple TV, according to reports.

It was a temporary glitch, according to Amazon.

“Earlier today, there was a technical glitch that impacted the Prime Video app on iOS and tvOS devices. The issue has been resolved, and the Prime Video app is now once again available in the App Store,” read an Amazon statement.

The glitch comes as Apple plans to launch its own streaming service, Apple TV+, Nov. 1 at $4.99.

Disney, too, is entering the market with Disney+ Nov. 12, and its CEO Bob Iger resigned from Apple’s board Sept. 10, the day the tech giant announced details about the pricing and release of its streaming service.

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In another streaming dustup, Disney is reportedly banning Netflix ads from all of its entertainment TV networks, including ABC, according to The Wall Street Journal.

‘Mad Money’ Host Jim Cramer Wants Netflix Removed From ‘FAANG’

In the world of high-profile Wall Street analysts, CNBC’s frenetic “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer has helped define a cottage TV industry of fast-talking  personalities targeting consumer and business investors.

On CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street,” Cramer said Netflix should be removed from a basket of top-performing tech stocks, dubbed “FAANG” (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google).

Speaking Oct. 3, Cramer said that with Netflix’s stock down 29% in 2019, compared to a 18% rise for Microsoft, the subscription streaming video pioneer’s status should be re-evaluated.

“We gotta get Netflix the hell out of FAANG,” Cramer said. “I tell you that right now. I don’t know how to do it.”

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Cramer contends Microsoft should replace Netflix (and apparently Google too), thus rendering the tech group “FAAM.”

Tough love from an analyst who just five months ago penned an article in high praise of the streamer and co-founder/CEO Reed Hastings.

“Netflix is about something to talk about Monday morning,” he wrote in April. “It’s about not feeling like a stooge when everyone watched Bird Box. You can’t be a stooge! In other words, as ethereal as it sounds, Reed Hastings is right when he says ‘the real metric is can we keep our members happy.'”

Apparently keeping subscribers and investor happy can be mutually exclusive. That’s because investors care not so much about subscriber happiness, but rather subscriber growth, according to Cramer.

And Netflix laid an egg of sorts during the last fiscal period when it failed to meet sub growth projections worldwide — including losing domestic subs for the first time in more than five years.

“I’m not a Netflix fan, here,” Cramer said, alluding to the pending arrival of SVOD competition from Disney, Apple, AT&T and Comcast — the latter parent to NBC Universal’s CNBC network.

“There’s too many competitors,” he said.

Netflix reports third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) financials on Oct. 16.

 

Report: 90% of Brits Stop at One or Two Streaming Video Services

New subscription streaming video services coming from Disney, Apple and WarnerMedia, in addition to Disney’s Hulu, all eye the United Kingdom as market growth opportunities.

But will consumers there even care?

New research from online ad exchange OpenX and The Harris Poll, found that nearly 90% of U.K. consumers limit their SVOD services to one or two, with just 12% having three or more.

Indeed, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, Now TV, ITV Player, and BritBox, among others, currently dominate the U.K. market. 

The report was commissioned to underscore the effectiveness of advertising in an evolving media landscape and changing consumer viewing habits.

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Regardless, television consumption continues to proliferate. The report found that consumers stream nearly seven hours of video per week. Millennials stream upwards of 10 hours weekly.

Older baby boomers, on the other hand, consume 16 hours of live TV weekly, while millennials stream 77% more than watch traditional TV.

“Whether they are watching TV, using a mobile device or browsing the web on a desktop computer, the way consumers are engaging with media is changing rapidly,” Gavin Stirrat, VP of partner services, EMEA at OpenX, said in a statement.

Apple Bowing Original Movies Theatrically Ahead of Streaming

As Apple is spending Netflix-like billions on original programming and movies, it has no plans to emulate the SVOD pioneer with  a non-theatrical window.

The media giant reportedly plans to release original movies in theaters exclusively for three weeks ahead of any distribution on the pending Apple TV+ streaming platform.

Apple’s nod to the traditional 90-day window mirrors Amazon Studios, which released Manchester by the Sea in theaters in 2017 before streaming it on Prime Video. The movie went on to win two Oscars, including Best Actor for Casey Affleck.

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Apple is following the traditional Hollywood movie distribution playbook to better leverage cooperation from producers and directors, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the strategy.

Apple video executives include Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, who report to services chief, Eddy Cue.

Netflix had planned to release big-budget mobster movie, The Irishman, from director Martin Scorsese exclusively in theaters, but negotiations between the SVOD leader and exhibitors reportedly broke down.

The streamer has steadfastly opted to stream original movies concurrently with any theatrical release — a strategy that results in boycott from most major exhibitors.

Apple’s pending theatrical strategy includes the 2020 bow of Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks, which stars Rashida Jones as a young woman reconnecting with her eccentric father (Bill Murray).

The film marks Coppola’s first collaboration with Murray since the 2003 indie drama, Lost in Translation, which earned Coppola an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

The streamer is also readying documentary, The Elephant Queen, about an elephant leading her herd across Africa.

 

Bob Iger: ‘If Steve (Jobs) Were Alive,’ (Disney, Apple) Would be Combined Companies

Pending retirement and 20/20 hindsight can do wonders for the printed page.

With his departure from The Walt Disney Co. set for 2021, CEO Bob Iger has already authored a memoir on his long-running stint heading the world famous brand.

The book, “The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company,” is available everywhere Sept. 23, including Amazon.

In excerpts disclosed on Vanity Fair’s website, Iger delves into his relationship with late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and how he was stunned to find out 10 minutes before announcing Disney’s $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar in 2006 that Jobs’ cancer had returned.

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Iger suggests that had Jobs lived (he died in 2011), he believes — surprisingly — that the two would have facilitated a merger of sorts between Disney and Apple.

It’s an interesting revelation, if not unrealistic considering who Jobs was.

The mercurial executive was a majority shareholder of Pixar and a member of Disney’s board. He was also notoriously self-centered in his vision for Apple and the world revolving around it — not the other way around.

While fighting a return of terminal cancer (despite being one of the richest people on Earth) would cloud anyone’s judgment, when it comes to streaming video and content IP, Jobs’ insolence toward the emerging distribution model and owning content was glaring.

Despite pioneering music, TV show and movie distribution through iTunes, Jobs infamously dismissed Apple TV as a “little hobby,” to be re-evaluated in the distant future.

That attitude contributed to Apple (with more than $200 billion in cash) sitting on the sidelines as Iger-led Disney swooped in to buy Pixar, Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm (Star Wars) — the latter two properties for a combined $8 billion.

Disney has made more than $18 billion on its Marvel investment. The first four Star Wars movies produced by Disney-owned Lucasfilm have already paid for that acquisition. And Pixar’s Toy Story 4 is the fourth film from that studio to top $1 billion at the global box office.

It seems doubtful that had Jobs lived, Apple would have jumped into content ownership. Jobs’ successor Tim Cook has only now decided to push Apple TV into the SVOD ecosystem.

Indeed, Iger, in his book, said Jobs had grown frustrated dealing with the Disney culture and former CEO Michael Eisner.

“Among his many frustrations was a feeling that it was often too difficult to get anything done with Disney,” Iger wrote.

Yet, today Apple has ratcheted up original content, spending Netflix-like billions on programming featuring ‘A’-list talent such as Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon.

The move has generated headlines but comes as Disney, AT&T/WarnerMedia, Comcast and Viacom all bow separate and competing over-the-top video platforms.

Instead of being an innovator as it was with the PC, iTunes, smart phones and tablets, Apple is chasing the competition, a reality noted earlier this year by Netflix’s Ted Sarandos.

“We’ve been competing with 500 channels of cable and penetrated nearly every household in the world for a long time,” Sarandos told the media in March. “So, it’s the same stable of competitors [Apple, Disney, AT&T, Viacom]; just very late to the game.”

 

Subs Dive Lower

Halloween may be Oct. 31, but the real thriller in Hollywood will hit in November.

Disney+ and Apple TV+ are in a sub battle to the pricing floor. After Disney+ announced its Nov. 12 launch at $6.99 a month, with special offers dipping below $4 a month, Apple TV+ Sept. 10 an­nounced it would launch its SVOD service Nov. 1 (more than a week before Disney) at $4.99 a month, below regular pricing for Disney+ and approaching the special offer cost.

Not coincidentally, Disney CEO Bob Iger resigned from the Apple board the same day.

The two services, vying to take on the likes of streaming giants such as Netflix (with pricing starting at $8.99 a month) and Amazon Prime (a free add-on to its shipping fee), seem to have made the calculation to charge practically nothing for premium streaming content.

The moves could further lower con­sumers’ perceived value of content in general. Over the years, studios have fought outfits that devalued their con­tent. Now, Disney and several others are joining some of the low-priced markets they previously vilified — and undercutting them.

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Certainly, entering the streaming market offers additional value other than subscription revenue. Disney and others will gather a treasure trove of data on their customers, and perhaps will find new ways to better target and monetize content.

Giving away a library of titles for the price of a gallon of milk each month is certain to attract con­sumers, but it’s a gamble that could undermine the value of the studios’ core product.