Apple TV Plus joins streaming wars, has Oprah but no catalog
LOS ANGELES — As the streaming wars near a fever pitch and viewers are targeted from every vantage point — Disney Plus has the Marvel and Star Wars brands! HBO Max counters with “Game of Thrones” and DC superheroes! — Apple TV Plus could be cast as the highly pedigreed and improbable underdog.
While the venture counts Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg among its first wave of talent, Apple TV Plus launches Friday with just a handful of original programs. It also lacks a warehouse of old shows and franchise films that can reliably draw nostalgic viewers and produce spinoffs, such as “The Mandalorian” for Disney Plus and HBO Max’s newly announced “Game of Thrones” prequel, “House of the Dragon.”
Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, the former Sony Pictures Television presidents who are heads of worldwide video for Apple, say they are undaunted by the comparisons and optimistic about the streamer’s future.
“We are working with some of the most tremendously talented people we’ve ever met working in entertainment today,” Van Amburg said, and he sees them rising to the challenge of building an enterprise in general and for tech giant Apple in particular. “There’s an expression that we use here across the board at Apple: ‘Come to Apple and do the best work of your life.’ That’s actually what we ask of everyone who comes here.”
There’s both opportunity and anxiety in being part of such a launch, said Kerry Ehrin, showrunner for the Jennifer Aniston-Reese Witherspoon drama “The Morning Show.”
“It’s a huge amount of pressure, but you can’t really live in that space,” Ehrin said. “You drive yourself crazy … because you start creating for, ‘Oh, is this right, or is that gonna work?’ instead of just creating what you find compelling and entertaining.”
Aniston, who’s also a producer for the series, calls it “refreshing and exciting to be a part of something that’s just beginning. … We’re building it all together.”
Besides “The Morning Show,” the service’s starting lineup includes Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard in the futuristic drama “See,” Hailee Steinfeld in “Dickinson,” a modern take on poet Emily Dickinson, a book-focused series from Winfrey, and the wildlife documentary “The Elephant Queen.” Upcoming fare includes Spielberg’s revival of “Amazing Stories”; additional Winfrey projects; the psychological thriller “Servant” from M. Night Shyamalan (Nov. 28); drama series “Truth Be Told” with Octavia Spencer (Dec. 6), and “The Banker,” a movie starring Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson (in theaters in December, streaming in January).
A subscription costs $4.99 a month, with usage allowed for up to six family members. Buyers of new Apple devices such as the iPhone and iPad get the streamer free for a year. Among the competition, Disney Plus (launching Nov. 12) is $6.99 monthly, HBO Max (May 2020) is $14.99 and, among the existing services, it’s as low as $5.99 a month for Hulu and $8.99 each for Netflix and Amazon Prime Video (which is included with a $119 annual Amazon Prime membership).
There are deals to be had. Buyers of new Apple devices get a free year of Apple TV Plus and a seven-day trial is available without charge to all, enticements that mirror those of its competitors. For the new services, free promotions are key to building a subscriber base, while retaining them will be another challenge .
To break out from the pack, streamers are touting their wares with carnival barker-like gusto. In a presentation Tuesday for HBO Max, part of AT&T-owned WarnerMedia, executives emphasized the hits it will draw from the WarnerMedia library, including the full 10-season run of “Friends” (which it’s retrieving from Netflix), and newly purchased series including “South Park.”
Van Amburg and Erlicht , who in their long tenure at Sony were involved with some of the shows their competitors stream, including Netflix’s Emmy-winning “The Crown,” brush away concerns about being library-less. Instead, the executives stress a bonus they’re offering consumers in this dauntingly prolific television age.