A fascinating article in the WSJ over the weekend described the lengths to which Apple is going to maintain a family-friendly strategy for its original TV shows. The article describes how CEO Tim Cook personally screened “Vital Signs” about Dr. Dre and nixed it for being too violent. It also says that producers Jamie Erlicht and Zach Van Amburg, whom Apple hired in June, 2017, spend significant time winning approval from Cook and SVP Eddy Cue for any new projects.
None of this is surprising, as Apple seeks to balance its desire to move into the entertainment business while not causing any damage to its gold-plated brand. Where a TV network can cultivate creativity and push the envelope with a new show with little downside, Apple risks harming sales of its devices if audiences feel an Apple original is discordant with the company’s brand.
The issue of course is that by constraining itself this way, Apple may end up producing shows that have limited appeal to audiences who have been trained to expect ever edgier programming from SVOD providers and cable TV networks. In the old days this kind of programming (whether featuring nudity, violence, profanity, grittiness, etc.) was the province of HBO and Showtime primarily. But now it is commonplace (think “Breaking Bad” on AMC for example). Audiences have come to believe that practically wherever they turn they’ll have R-type choices.
So for Apple to eschew these kinds of programs means it will occupy a more limited place in the market. That in turn will limit the purpose of Apple’s originals in the first place - to get Apple customers to spend more time with the brand and presumably more money (though Apple’s monetization plans for its originals remain murky). Compounding Apple’s challenge is that there’s never been more high-quality originals to choose from in the “peak TV” era. By FX’s count, nearly 500 originals will be produced this year.
I’ve been modestly skeptical about Apple’s decision to spend $1 billion on originals from the beginning, mainly because it’s never been readily apparent what the business model will be or whether it would have much incremental impact for the company. Now with the emphasis on G or at best PG-related programming, in a world increasingly defined by R type of fare, Apple’s place in the highly competitive entertainment industry seems even more uncertain. It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds.