Get All Access for $5/mo

Has Apple's Streaming Bet Paid Off? Apple's foray into video streaming hasn't yet toppled Netflix, but with billions in the bank, free subscription offers, and upcoming bundles, Apple TV+ is still in the game as it approaches its one-year anniversary.

By Tyler Hayes

This story originally appeared on PCMag

via PC Mag

A year ago, the odds that Apple could buy its way into the elite club of video streaming services like Netflix and HBO were not in Cupertino's favor. Even with almost $200 billion in the bank, the idea of Apple creating quality content that critics and viewers alike would happily consume seemed just beyond the technology company's reach.

One year, and dozens of TV shows and movies later, Apple TV+ appears to have beaten the odds — for now. Its prospects seem brighter than those of Quibi, at least.

The streaming landscape was already crowded in 2019 when $4.99-per-month Apple TV+ and then Disney+ landed in November. This year saw the addition of HBO Max and Peacock. Apple TV+ probably isn't going to topple Netflix anytime soon, but that shouldn't be the goal, says Jeffrey Cole, Director and CEO of the Center for the Digital Future (CDF) at USC Annenberg.

"We've always thought that people are going to subscribe to two and a half of these services at most and whatever risk Netflix was at when Disney and Apple entered the scene has disappeared," Cole says. "I think Netflix has locked its place in for the next couple of years."

In a July letter to shareholders, Netflix acknowledged that "two of the most valuable companies in the world, Apple and Amazon, are growing their investment in premium content," but said "instead of worrying about all these competitors, we continue to stick to our strategy of trying to improve our service and content every quarter faster than our peers."

"The future of Apple TV+ can be a good one, but it has to be a permanent giveaway if you buy Apple equipment," Cole says. "[Apple] just became a $2 trillion company and Apple TV+ is a rounding error, so I don't think the future of the service is collecting five bucks a month."

Who's Subscribing to Apple TV+?

As of March 2020, the majority US consumers in all age ranges had at least heard of Apple TV+, according to Statista—though most had not subscribed.

Share of adults with an Apple TV Plus subscription in the United States as of March 2020(Image: Statista)

It was most popular with Gen Z (24 years old and younger), 11 percent of whom were subscribers. A month later, that had shifted slightly; 38 percent of Apple TV+ subscribers were age 25 to 34, and about 16 percent were 18 to 24, according to a separate survey.

When asked by Statista to name the services from which they'd purchased music downloads or streaming services in the past year, Apple TV+ landed at No. 10 with 12 percent. Netflix (82 percent), Amazon Prime Video (65 percent) and Hulu (51 percent) were the top three.

graph showing the most popular video-on-demand providers in the US(Image: Statista)

A major focus for video-streaming services big and small is original content. In PCMag's review last fall, we noted that "Apple TV+ is impressive from a technical standpoint, but its current library of original content is not competitive with that of top-tier video streaming services."

A high brand awareness suggests Apple is pushing the right marketing buttons, but it likely needs at least one must-watch, mass-appeal show or movie. To date, Apple's most high-profile "get" — besides The Morning Show, perhaps — has been Tom Hanks' Greyhound. When the movie's theatrical debut was cancelled due to COVID-19, Apple opened its wallet and purchased the rights for Apple TV+ viewers.

Not getting to see the film on the big screen was "heartbreaking," Hanks told The Guardian. "I don't mean to make angry my Apple overlords, but there is a difference in picture and sound quality that goes along with [switching from the cinema to TV]," he said. Hanks later clarified that Apple "saved the day" by acquiring the film.

"Apple TV+ and Disney+ have done well, but ran into the problem that their catalogs weren't deep enough, they weren't ready for the kind of viewing during a pandemic that Netflix was ready for," says CDF's Jeffrey Cole. "It's one of the reasons why Disney had to divert programming like Artemis Fowl and Hamilton on to Disney+, and one of the reasons why Apple bought Greyhound."

promotional photo for The Oprah Conversation on apple tv plus(Image: Apple)

Beyond Greyhound, Apple also produced a new, largely on-the-fly episode of Mythic Quest — shot remotely on iPhones with a working-during-quarantine premise. The pandemic also likely helped accelerate the debut of Oprah Winfrey's weekly show, The Oprah Conversation (after she dropped plans for a Russell Simmons documentary earlier in the year).

Apple TV+ shows nabbed 18 Emmy nominations this year for The Morning Show, Beastie Boys Story, Defending Jacob, Central Park, Home, and The Elephant Queen. Billy Crudup won for his role in The Morning Show. Multiple wins for HBO and Pop TV's Schitt's Creek, however, meant streaming services were largely shut out of victories in the big categories in 2020.

Defending Jacob promotional photoDefending Jacob (Image: Apple)

Nearly all of Apple's launch titles have been renewed for a second season. It's also been making lots of new deals through spring and summer. It's hard to know if any of these deals were greenlit out of urgency or would have proceeded regardless. One thing is sure, however: the amount of content Apple is creating or purchasing isn't slowing down.

With almost $193 billion in cash on hand, Apple certainly has money to burn. But how to boost those subscriber numbers? Free subscriptions with product purchases certainly help; Apple just introduced two new iPads and a new flagship iPhone is expected next month.

Another option? Apple One subscription bundles. Announced earlier this month, Apple will soon launch three Apple One tiers, all of which include Apple TV+, starting at $14.95 per month for Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and 50GB of iCloud storage.

Can this help nab a few more Apple TV+ viewers, and attract some newbies into the Apple ecosystem? Time will tell.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Starting a Business

I Left the Corporate World to Start a Chicken Coop Business — Here Are 3 Valuable Lessons I Learned Along the Way

Board meetings were traded for barnyards as a thriving new venture hatched.

Business News

'Passing By Wide Margins': Elon Musk Celebrates His 'Guaranteed Win' of the Highest Pay Package in U.S. Corporate History

Musk's Tesla pay package is almost 140 times higher than the annual pay of other high-performing CEOs.

Business News

Joey Chestnut Is Going From Nathan's to Netflix for a Competition 15 Years in the Making

Chestnut was banned from this year's Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest due to a "rival" contract. Now, he'll compete in a Netflix special instead.


Are Your Business's Local Listings Accurate and Up-to-Date? Here Are the Consequences You Could Face If Not.

Why accurate local listings are crucial for business success — and how to avoid the pitfalls of outdated information.

Money & Finance

Day Traders Often Ignore This One Topic At Their Peril

Boring things — like taxes — can sometimes be highly profitable.

Growing a Business

He Immigrated to the U.S. and Got a Job at McDonald's — Then His Aversion to Being 'Too Comfortable' Led to a Fast-Growing Company That's Hard to Miss

Voyo Popovic launched his moving and storage company in 2018 — and he's been innovating in the industry ever since.