Apple (and no TV)

By: Michael Savich

Recent rumors that Apple has finished filming its own documentary series “Planet of the Apps” suggest it’s time for to peer into the crystal ball and figure out what it all means. For those who haven’t heard, Apple has been making efforts to produce more video content, Planet of the Apps is only one example.

So far, most of Apple’s video efforts have been under the Apple Music banner. It started with Apple funding the creation of several music videos, such as Hotline Bling and Can’t Feel My Face in exchange for exclusivity. Things really began to heat up when Apple purchased the rights to The Late Late Show segment, Carpool Karaoke with intent to make the segment into its own spinoff series. As if to signal the importance of Carpool Karaoke to Apple, the iPhone 7 keynote opened with a segment where CEO Tim Cook rode the titular carpool to the event.

I would suggest that it’s no coincidence that rumors about Apple’s Planet of the Apps started circulating shortly after Apple’s plans to provide a cable-like bundle subscription reportedly fizzled out. That’s merely conjecture though, it could simply be that Apple wanted to portray the third-party developer experience in a positive light. (Considering how the prices for most apps are unsustainably low, one could see why Apple would feel it necessary to sweep any pessimism under the rug.)

As far as recent history is concerned, Apple began flirting with video production when it opened up an internal team to produce ads, pitting them against Apple’s longtime ad partner, Chiat\Day. It’s unclear if there is any connection between that team and the decision to produce Planet of the Apps, but given that Apple is not a divisional structure (i.e. functions as a single unit) it isn’t unreasonable to expect that the prior experience was a considered factor.

The popular narrative is that when the aforementioned cable bundle deal fell through Apple decided to start making its own content, using Apple Music as a testing ground. The plan, so the story goes, is to take on Netflix by building up original content, and then making deals with the other networks from a position of power.

In response to a Variety reporter asking Apple Music executive Jimmy Iovine what he thinks of the idea that Apple wants to compete with Netflix, he responded: “When I read that, or I read that we’re taking on whomever, I say no. To me it’s all one thing. It’s Apple Music, and it happens to have video and audio. … It has nothing to do with what Netflix is doing.”

That could be the case but it might not be. This is a rare situation where Occam’s razor does not help us. Is it more likely that Apple’s disparate video efforts are part of a larger push into producing content? It’s hard to imagine that these moves aren’t part of some grand plan. On the other hand, it’s completely reasonable to conclude these videos are just being made to further the goals of the teams behind them.

For 2017 though, Apple’s roadmap seems unambitious. In December, Apple released its TV app, which simply serves as a portal to content within existing providers’ apps. On the hardware side, reports have surfaced that Apple plans to release a new version of the Apple TV that supports 4K playback later this year. An industry shakeup, it would seem, is not on the horizon.


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