Apple TV Plus: Everything to know about Apple's planned streaming service

Apple TV Plus talent gathers with CEO Tim Cook in March in the lobby of the Steve Jobs Theater.


Art Streiber/Apple

Apple officially announced Apple TV Plus, a subscription service for its exclusive original shows and films, at a splashy event in March at its headquarters in Cupertino, California. Reportedly budgeting $6 billion to sprinkle across Hollywood and trotting out some of Hollywood’s biggest stars and heavy hitters to sing its praises, Apple finally confirmed it plans a launch date sometime in the fall for the Netflix competitor offering original TV shows and movies.

Since then, the company has released trailers and teasers for two of its big originals: The Morning Show, a drama about a morning news broadcast starring Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell, and For All Mankind, a period piece from the creator of Battlestar Galactica that presents an alternative history in which Russian put the first person on the moon. Oprah WinfreySteven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams and other big names are also on board. 

But Apple has been silent about some of the most important details that future subscribers need to know. The company played coy on specifics including how much the Apple TV Plus will cost, how many programs will be available at launch and whether Apple will drop all episodes in a season all at once, a la Netflix. 

Bloomberg report Monday filled in some of the blanks. Apple TV Plus reportedly will debut at a possible cost of $10 per month by November with a small slate of shows, expanding over the following months. A free trial is a possibility, and Apple could experiment with unconventional release schedules, like releasing the first three episodes of a series and then dishing out the rest week by week. 

For a service that Apple CEO Tim Cook has heralded as “unlike anything that’s been done before,” here’s what we actually know. 

What will Apple’s TV service look like? 

Even after Apple’s splashy unveiling in March, we still don’t have much clarity. The event gave us some more details about specific programs Apple is producing (more on that below), and the company specified that Apple TV Plus won’t have ads and will be available in more than 100 countries. It will also be part of Apple’s family sharing feature, which allows you and up to five family members to share a plan. 

Apple TV Plus will also live inside its revamped TV app. There, Apple TV Plus will sit next to other video subscriptions such as HBO or Starz. (Just don’t expect Netflix there.) We’ll be waiting for Apple’s TV Plus service until the fall. 

But we still don’t know exactly how all the pieces fit together. Apple didn’t answer questions like: Will this service also have a library of licensed shows and movies, making it similar to Netflix? Will it stick to its own originals and release shows week to week, along the lines of a premium channel like HBO? Or will it focus on integrating its own subscription programming next to that from add-on channels and iTunes-like rental and purchase options, similar to Amazon Prime Video and its Channels

And will Apple package any of its own subscriptions, such as the new Apple News Plus and Apple Music, into discounted bundle, a la Disney Plus being packaged with Hulu and ESPN Plus? Will Apple score price breaks from add-on subscription partners such as HBO, Showtime or Starz — and will it give consumers a lower cost if they bundle Apple TV Plus with some of those streaming channels? (Note: Showtime is owned by CBS, the parent company of CNET.)

We still don’t know. Even people who are making shows for Apple have been kept in the dark about how those shows will be released. 

But ahead of the March event, Apple was reportedly racing to finalize deals with networks to license catalogs of already released content that’ll supplement its original shows.  And it wasn’t a shock when Netflix CEO Reed Hastings confirmed this week that the company wasn’t participating in Apple’s new TV app. For one, Netflix doesn’t participate in bundles like Amazon‘s Channels. And Netflix doesn’t even allow people to sign up for a new subscription in its iOS app because of the company’s distaste for Apple’s fees. 

How much will it cost?

Apple hasn’t specified price. Most recently, Bloomberg reported a $9.99 per month subscription, citing unnamed sources. 

But BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield believes Apple will give its $2 billion a year in programming for free. 

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If you own an Apple device, Greenfield anticipates Apple will provide free access to these productions in the TV app on iOS or Apple TV. “Think of Apple’s strategy along the lines of [Amazon’s] Prime Video,” he said in a note late last year. Apple’s hope is that viewers will come for Oprah or Abrams and then tack on other paid services to watch HBO, Starz or Showtime all in the same place. (Apple takes a cut of a service’s subscription revenue when you sign up through one of its storefronts.) In this scenario, Apple could offer the service to people who don’t own its gadget by charging a subscription fee to those who want to watch on competitors’ products. 

But it’s also reasonable to doubt that theory. Apple, known for premium products with high price tags, would be acting out of character to give away free programming. 

Apple may try to create its own kind of discounted bundle — packaging a group of about 15 video services, including paid streaming networks and free digital channels such as Tastemade — and throw in its short list of finished originals as a bonus, at least initially.

However, Apple offering a free trial period is a safe bet. The company launched Apple Music with an extended free trial, and it’s the industry standard: Most streaming video services offer introductory free periods for new members. The duration of that free trial may differ whether you own an Apple device or not. 

If Apple does decide to charge for its Apple TV Plus, there’s a general price range it’ll need to meet for it to be competitive. 

Most streaming video services — at least the ones with the kind of premium programming that Apple is cultivating — range from about $5 to $15 a month. Netflix, as the world’s biggest subscription streaming service, sets the benchmark: $13 in the US for its most popular plan. But Apple’s catalog of shows will be much thinner than Netflix’s, making it hard for consumers to swallow a price that matches or tops that. Disney, for example, has said it will price its forthcoming Disney Plus streaming subscription less than Netflix specifically because it won’t have the same breadth of original exclusives as Netflix. 

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Reese Witherspoon (left) and Jennifer Aniston revealed the name of their Apple TV Plus series, The Morning Show, at Apple’s event in March. 


Claudia Cruz/CNET

When will it launch?

Apple TV Plus will launch in the fall of 2019. Bloomberg reported it will debut by November. 

Apple plans to launch the service in the US followed by an expansion to more than 100 countries.

What devices will be able to stream it?

Apple’s programming will be available on all Apple devices with the new Apple TV app. 

In addition, Apple TV Plus will presumably be available on competitor’s devices too. Apple said that the overhauled TV app will be available this year on Roku, Amazon’s Fire TV devices and smart TVs from SamsungSonyLG and Vizio. Since that app is the home for the Apple TV Plus service, it’s likely that you’ll be able to stream Apple’s shows on those devices too. But it’s possible Apple could limit support for the TV Plus service only to its own devices. 

What shows and movies will it have?

Apple’s shows run the gamut of drama, comedy, documentary — even undefined deals with a single big star attached. CNET keeps a tally of the more than 30 Apple shows known so far, and it has details on every program. 

Period piece Dickinson and sci-fi epic See are two of Apple’s shows that have finished shooting, making them more likely to be available when the service launches in the fall. 


Apple

But most of these series won’t be ready to debut when the service launches. As of March, five reportedly had finished shooting

  • An Octavia Spencer mystery drama called Are You Sleeping? 
  • A space drama from Outlander and Battlestar Galactica producer Ronald D. Moore called For All Mankind.
  • A thriller, Servant, from Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan. 
  • A comedy, Mythic Quest, from Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day, who created and star in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. 
  • A comedy about reclusive poet Emily Dickinson, played by Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit and The Edge of Seventeen.

When Apple confirmed the service was coming in March, many shows reportedly were still shooting, including: 

  • The Morning Show, a drama about a morning broadcast program starring Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell.
  • Amazing Stories, an anthology series from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television and NBC Universal.
  • See, a sci-fi drama starring Jason Momoa, who’s part of the DC Justice League movie crew playing Aquaman and rose to prominence playing Daenarys Targaryen’s first husband in early season of Game of Thrones.
  • Little America, the brainchild of husband-and-wife screenwriting team Kumail Nanjiani (you may know him as Dinesh on HBO’s Silicon Valley) and Emily V. Gordon, whose The Big Sick was the toast of Sundance more than two years ago.
  • Central Park, a cartoon musical from the creator of Bob’s Burgers and packed with the voices of stars such as Frozen’s Josh Gad and Kristen Bell and Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr. and Daveed Diggs.
  • A docuseries Home, which will go inside extraordinary houses and explore the minds of the people who built them.

As Apple’s fall deadline approached, the company was trying to accelerate buzz around The Morning Show, releasing a short teaser and then a full trailer just one week apart in the middle of August. 

The company’s progress lining up movies for the service is less advanced, at least from what’s publicly known. Apple has a partnership with film studio A24 — known for such movies as Ex Machina, Moonlight and Room. Their partnership will include a film called On the Rocks starring Bill Murray and Rashida Jones and directed by Sofia Coppola. 

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Apple has also acquired a few films at festivals to distribute on the new service. It picked up Hala, produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, at Sundance and a documentary about elephants called The Elephant Queen at the Toronto Film Festival. The company also bought the rights to Wolfwalkers, an animated movie from Cartoon Saloon and Melusine Productions. 

Apple has come under early scrutiny because of reports it’s restricting its creators from making edgy content and aiming to keep all its programming family friendly. Family friendly programming isn’t a liability to success — Disney built one of the reigning media empires on it — but edgy shows have led other streaming services to awards recognition that often drives new viewers to try a service and is frequently used as a barometer for a service’s success. Apple’s strategy could crimp it competitively on that front.

But that won’t stop Apple from trying to score awards, apparently. The company is hiring strategists to help craft campaigns for awards like the Oscars and Emmys, according to a report. 

Who will Apple compete against for you dollars? 

Apple’s forthcoming service would launch at a time when seemingly every major media property is putting out their own streaming option, from DC Universe’s comic-flavored fare to a planned Disney offering, not to mention stalwarts like Netflix

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Brie Larson (left) will star in an Apple drama series, but she’s also working with Netflix, where her directorial debut Unicorn Store is streaming. 


Netflix

Clearly, an Apple service with $1 billion worth of premium video will compete with the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and others that stream on-demand, high-quality productions. 

Should Apple focus on bundling other digital networks, then Amazon Channels will be its key rival. But Apple is also going up against wireless companies such as AT&T that offer VRV, a co-op of niche genre streaming services. 

The bundling model even brings Apple in competition with traditional cable. In the week before Apples event, Comcast announced a $5-a-month service called Xfinity Flex, which lumps together a streaming box, a voice remote and a digital interface to navigate all your video options in one place — Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and HBO along with free ad-supported shows and options to rent or buy programming — as well as throwing in controls for music services and connected security cameras in your home.

As Netflix likes to point out, video services don’t just compete among themselves, they’re going up against anything that’s vying for your attention. Traditional television, YouTube, the parade of live-TV streaming services — even gaming phenoms like Fortnite — all pack Apple’s new competitive field. 

What’s interesting is that Apple’s dive into original programming comes as other giants are ramping up their own original video ambitions. 

Disney will launch a $7-a-month Netflix-like service Nov. 12. Called Disney Plus, the digital service will be a home base for streaming all of Disney’s blockbuster movies, multiple Star Wars and Marvel original series and other programming. 

Meanwhile, NBCUniversal and HBO-owner WarnerMedia are both building their own streaming services. 

Apple is a gadget giant. Why does it want to become Netflix? 

Haven’t you heard? Everybody wants to be the Netflix of something. (Podcasts! Fitness! Clothes! Games! Even demand management.)

Apple is taking aim at original video because it could be a crucial enticement for people to buy more iPhones and other gadgets. You can’t overstate the importance of the iPhone to Apple. The phone, one of the most popular in the world, still accounts for more than half its sales and was critical to Apple’s march to become the first US company worth $1 trillion

But Apple is on a deadline to double its services revenue to $50 billion before 2021. 

Apple quickly established its bona fides in subscriptions businesses with Apple Music. But the content on Apple Music is essentially the same as every other music service. They all have tens of millions of songs. Apple Music has been successful largely because of its presence on the iPhone, already in the pockets of millions of people. It hasn’t been nearly as successful working the other direction, acting as a lure to buy the latest Apple gadget.  

Original video from big-name stars and creators you can’t watch anywhere else, however, could be different. 

Apple clearly has a hunch it will be.

Originally published Sept. 8, 2018, and updated as new information is revealed.

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Joan E. Solsman

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