The company has beefed up its TV offering with some flashy acquisitions, but it could still struggle to stand out in a landscape littered with quality
Apple knows how to make an entrance. In June, the tech juggernaut sent a shiver down the collective spine of the prestige TV cognoscenti by recruiting Jamie Erlicht and Zack van Amburg, the duo who helped Sony shepherd the likes of The Crown and Breaking Bad to critical and commercial success.
Arming them with a budget of $1bn, Apple tasked the pair with bringing back at least 10 shows, each with the potential to become their own Game of Thrones-style juggernaut. Subtle, they were not.
Of course, you don’t have to be when you are on track to become the world’s first $1tn company. And television is a crowded space, with a recent study forecasting up to 520 original scripted series on the plate for 2018.
Confidence is a must, and Apple is exuding it, not just with its top-level executives, but also with its deliberate goals and modest budget. Nowhere else, it seems, would $1bn be considered such, but it seems paltry alongside the $8bn (Netflix) and $4.5bn (Amazon), respectively, are putting towards their 2018 slates.
But while Netflix’s plan includes 30 new anime series and 80 new original films, in addition to original drama and comedy series, Apple’s goals remain much more focused, with a clear emphasis on quality over quantity.
Seeds of this approach were planted as early as last year, when Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice-president of internet software and services, revealed the company’s approach to original content. “We’re not out trying to buy a bunch of shows,” Cue said at the time, citing the issue of having “900 channels and nothing to watch”.
Providing only 10 shows solves that problem; curation is consistently being valued over excess in this age of endless options. So far, the company has announced five of its upcoming projects. Leading the pack is Amazing Stories, a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s genre anthology series from the mid-80s with Hannibal alum Bryan Fuller.
Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston are starring in another series, set in the world of morning television, from the former head of drama at HBO. Other recent acquisitions include a new space drama from Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D Moore; an “epic, world-building drama set in the future” called See from Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight; and Home, a docuseries from the makers of Chef’s Table about the visionaries behind the world’s most luxurious estates.
What we see here is a diverse range of series, each backed by experienced industry veterans and ensconced in the landscape’s current and budding trends. Anthologies are rising right now, as is genre fare, “epic” alternate realities and insider looks at off-kilter genius.There is a clear sense of curation on display, an attempt to not only encompass disparate trends and genres, but to ensure each category is handled by its respective titans.
But, by Cue’s estimation, it is not just about content. “We’re trying to create culture,” he said, hinting that the use of technology to amplify story was a goal of Apple’s. As such, Apple is not trying to become a player in the space in the same way as Netflix, necessarily.
They are not, for example, aiming to produce a library of streaming content, the likes of which more or less constitute the brands of Netflix, HBO or other streaming platforms. Unlike those companies, where the content is a means unto itself, Apple seems interested in securing content that can help perpetuate and evolve its own brand of technology.
Maybe that means experimental, tech-driven delivery in the vein of Steven Soderbergh’s app-based Mosaic. Or an opportunity to drive Apple’s inevitable push into augmented reality. Or, maybe all of this is wound much more tightly around its Apple Music subscription service, the means by which these shows will likely be accessible.
And should it succeed on any of these fronts, then maybe Apple will aim for the breadth and depth of Netflix. For now, however, the shows remain in service to the brand, not the other way around.