Last week’s Q2 earnings reports provided another valuable window into how Amazon, Comcast, Google and Facebook have all hit on winning formulas in video (at least for now), while Apple continues to spin its wheels, under-optimizing its ability to capitalize on the massive shifts underway in video and TV.
To briefly review, Comcast lost just 4K subscribers in Q2, vs. a loss of 162K three years ago, as its sleek X1 set-top box gains further traction and satellite and telco competitors stumble. Facebook reported a blow-out quarter, with earnings of $2 billion, double what they were just 6 months ago. Facebook has become a mobile powerhouse and is now laser-focused on video, as Facebook Live becomes widely adopted (though still under-monetized).
Meanwhile, Google also reported a strong Q2, citing YouTube’s “very significant” revenue growth as a key contributor. Google highlighted the success of TrueView, the gold standard in skippable ads, Google Preferred and programmatic all as powering YouTube’s growth. And Google has had a home run with Chromecast, the clever connected TV device that has now sold over 30 million units, up from 25 million reported in May.
Last but not least, Amazon, which also delivered robust top and bottom line growth in Q2, said that it was doubling content spending in the second half of 2016 vs. 2015 as it triples the number of Amazon original shows. Critical to these investment decisions is the recognition that video drives Prime subscriptions and renewals (and in turn shopping). 75% of Prime members are now watching video, and Jeff Bezos has labeled Prime a unique “physical digital hybrid membership program.” Translation: a cash-generating machine.
While these four giants are hitting their stride in video/TV, Apple’s earnings call last week featured little more than continued vague promises about how it will eventually capitalize on video from CEO Tim Cook, who said:
“On the Apple TV question, the introduction of Apple TV and tvOS last October and the subsequent OS releases and what's coming out this fall, think of that as building the foundation for what we believe can be a broader business over time. And so I don't want to be more precise than that. But you shouldn't look at what's there today and think we've done what we want to do. We've built a foundation that we can do something bigger off of.”
While true believers’ hopes were once again piqued, how many times have we heard vague allusions to big plans down the road, with only a refreshed Apple TV eventually emerging? To date, Apple has completely missed out on becoming a big player in original video content or monetization (where even newcomer Verizon has staked a claim by acquiring AOL and Yahoo). Last week brought a stinging WSJ expose on how Apple’s hubris in dealing with pay-TV operators and networks has contributed to its failure to strike any meaningful deals.
As a result, Apple’s main original content initiatives are a new deal to distribute James Corden’s “Carpool Karoke” segments and a forthcoming reality-style TV show / branded entertainment project about app developers, dubbed “Planet of the Apps.” A 6-episode series, called “Vital Signs” featuring Dr. Dre has been widely reported, but never confirmed by Apple.
Compared with the billions that Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and others are spending on original and licensed content, Apple’s efforts look pretty modest by comparison. Combined with Apple being stymied in pay-TV and SVOD, Apple does not have a meaningful toehold in either of video/TV’s 2 main revenue streams, subscriptions and advertising.
With Apple’s massive financial resources, unparalleled design capabilities and loyal customers, it’s bewildering to watch Apple fall so far behind. Apple may indeed have a foundation and big plans down the road, but the reality is that the video/TV market is changing right in front of our eyes and Amazon, Comcast, Google, Facebook and others are fully capitalizing. By contrast, Apple still looks like it is dabbling, in search of a larger strategy. The longer this goes on, the less likely that Apple will ever become a big player in the new video landscape.