Is Apple TV+ a Loss Leader?

NEWS ANALYSIS — Is Apple serious about the Apple TV+ subscription streaming service?

Apple TV+  launched in November 2019, ahead of Disney+, with a smattering of original shows and free 12-month access to anyone who bought an Apple device.

Fast forward to the present and the free trial has been expanded into 2021. Apple entered the year with a few hits — “The Morning Show” with Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carrel; “Ted Lasso” with Jason Sudeikis; navy wartime drama Greyhound, starring Tom Hanks — and even bigger consumer indifference.

While the consumer tech giant has never released subscriber count details, new 2020 year-end data from MoffettNathason found that 62% of Apple TV+ subs were on the free trial, and 29% accessing the service for free planned to drop it when it came time to pay the $4.99 monthly fee.

A year ago, Ampere Analysis suggested Apple TV+ had about 33 million subscribers, including free trials, with the tally expected to reach 40 million by the end of 2020.

The analyst firm and others contend Apple is largely unfazed by its sluggish SVOD start in comparison to high-profile Disney+, HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock. Some proof lies in content spend. While Netflix and others lavish billions on original movies and TV shows, Apple, despite having hundreds of billions of free cash at its disposal, has been slow to pull the trigger on big-budget productions.

“Apple is still not all-in on making Apple TV+ originals a focal point,” MoffettNathanson wrote.

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And why should it be? Apple saw a $14 billion increase in revenue in fiscal 2020 to $275 billion. That’s 56% of Netflix’s annual revenue! Services revenue increased 16% to $53.8 billion. Services includes subscription revenue and digital sales of movies and TV shows on Apple TV.

In addition, Apple mirrors Disney’s ESPN+/Hulu/Disney+ bundle offering AppleTV+ with Apple Music+, Apple News+, Apple Fitness+ and Apple Arcade in so-called “Apple One” bundles priced from $14.95 monthly.

“Apple could have easily leveraged Apple One to specifically prop up Apple TV+ but all it really did was again make it a throw-in,” wrote analyst The Entertainment Oracle. “For some people that’s fine, but again when you look at the point of the bundles, the hope from a number of investors was it would help Apple TV+ be more competitive.”

Apple reports first-quarter fiscal 2021 results Jan. 27.

Apple TV+ Extending Free Access By Three Months

Apple is extending by three months free access to its subscription streaming video-on-demand service Apple TV+. When the $4.99 monthly service was launched in November 2019, Apple gave consumers of new Apple devices free 12 months of service. That free period, which was set to expire on Nov. 1, 2020, will now expire on Feb. 1, 2021.

Consumers who bought Apple products after the initial Apple TV+ launch date will have their free trial period extended 90 days before reverting to the monthly fee.

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Apple has not disclosed the number of SVOD subscribers to its platform. Analysts contend the bulk of Apple TV+ subs are promotional and not paid. Critics say that unlike Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, Apple TV+ has limited original content and few catalog titles.

“[Apple is] still not in [OTT video] with both feet,” media executive Barry Diller told a recent podcast. “They’ve put some capital in, but relatively little [for Apple]. They’re not making a major effort.”

Apple reportedly was set to spend $6 billion on original content in 2020 (until COVID-19 hit), buttressing a slate that currently includes “The Morning Show,” “Dickinson,” “See,” “Ghostwriter,” “For All Mankind,” “Helpsters,” “Hala” and “Little America,” among others.

Production on season two of “The Morning Show” is now scheduled for Oct. 19. Jennifer Aniston in January won a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series for her leading role as morning news anchor Alex Levy in “The Morning Show.”

Apple TV+ is a part of Apple’s services business unit, which includes iTunes, Apple Music, the App Store, iCloud and Apple Pay. The segment generated $13.1 billion in revenue for the fiscal period ended June 30, which was up 15% from the previous-year period. The segment accounted for 22% of the Apple’s Q3 revenue.

Apple TV+ Beefing Up Catalog Content

As upstart subscription streaming video services go, Apple TV+ remains largely under the radar. Launching just 10 days ahead of Disney+ last November, the $4.99 SVOD service boasted 30 original programs, scant catalog content and reportedly has about 10 million subscribers. Apple gives a free year of service with any hardware purchase.

Now the Cupertino, Calif.-based CE giant is reportedly looking to beef up its content portfolio with catalog content, according to Bloomberg, which cited sources familiar with the situation. Despite about $200 billion in free cash at the end of 2019, Apple didn’t get into bidding for coveted TV series such as “Friends,” “The Office,” “Seinfeld” or “The Simpsons.”

With coronavirus quarantines continuing in many parts of the country, Apple is realizing the value of enhanced program offerings in the home. The company has reportedly begun contacting production companies about catalog TV shows and movies to backup original programming, which includes the launch of animated adult series “Central Park” on May 29, and documentaries “Dear”  and “Dads” in June.

Original series,”The Morning Show,” co-starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, earned Aniston her first SAG Award.

In an interview last month with Bloomberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook admitted the COVID-19 pandemic had expanded the market for new Apple TV + subscribers spending more time in the home.

“The pandemic cut both ways,” he said.

CEO: Apple TV+ Looking for Original Content, Not Re-Runs

Apple’s foray into subscription streaming video via Apple TV+ is all about original programming — not expensive re-runs. That’s according to CEO Tim Cook in response to a question during the Feb. 26 shareholder meeting about why the tech giant hasn’t gone after well-known catalog fare such as “Friends,” “The Big Bang Theory” or “The Office,” among others.

“We love ‘Friends.’ Who doesn’t love ‘Friends’? It’s not what Apple TV+ is about, it’s about original programming,” Cook said. “It doesn’t feel right for Apple to go out and take a rerun. It doesn’t feel like Apple.”

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AT&T’s WarnerMedia Entertainment reportedly paid $85 million per year for five years ($425 million) securing the exclusive streaming rights for “Friends” away from Netflix.

NBCUniversal paid more than $500 million for streaming rights to “The Office,” while Netflix paid about the same for “Seinfeld.”

Apple TV+ launched Nov. 1, 2019 with 24 original series, including Golden Globes winner “The Morning Show” for Jennifer Aniston. Other series include “Home Before Dark,” “Amazing Stories,” “Truth Be Told,” “Trying,” “See,” and “Dickenson,” starring Hailee Steinfeld (Bumblebee).

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“We’re going to be focused on original programming,” Cook said, adding that Apple TV+ is off to a “rousing start” without elaborating additional details, including subscriber numbers.

Apple giving away a free year of the service with any purchase of an Apple hardware product.