• Apple’s Modest Original Video Plans Raise Questions

    Last night at the Code Media conference,  Eddy Cue, Apple’s SVP of Internet Software and Services, shared thoughts about the company’s original video plans, which have been the subject of intense industry interest for years. Cue was joined on stage by Ben Silverman, Chairman and Co-CEO of Propagate, which is Apple’s co-production partner in “Planet of the Apps,” premiering on Apple Music this Spring.

    Recode’s Peter Kafka interviewed Cue and Silverman about the show and broader plans Apple might have for investing more heavily in original TV shows.

    “Planet of the Apps” is a “Shark Tank” takeoff for app developers that features Jessica Alba, Will.i.Am, Gwyneth Paltrow and Gary Vaynerchuk judging various app ideas for investment and cultivation. While Silverman highlighted a number of creative twists the show will include such as contestants pitching their app idea on an escalator, with judges swiping left or right if interested, at its core, “Planet of the Apps” is another in a long line of reality competition shows.

    Cue said Apple was “trying to do something unique” with the show, asserting that the company could bring cultural value to it, by bundling it into its Apple Music service. Even after hearing Cue repeat the rationale several times, an app reality competition show in a streaming music service still felt a bit like a square peg in a round hole.

    A far cleaner fit is Apple’s decision to buy an unscripted series based on “Carpool Karaoke” with James Corden. A trailer for that show, which was unveiled at the Grammys reveals a compelling mix of guests, performances and good fun.

    Still, both the apps show and Carpool seem like relatively modest bets for a company Apple’s size. After being asked 4 different ways by Kafka and multiple times by attendees during open Q&A whether Apple might still have Netflix or Amazon-sized ambitions in TV and video, Cue wouldn’t disclose anything. Instead he stayed relentlessly on-message, reiterating the company is “not taking a traditional route” in video and is only focused on “ideas where we can add value.”

    All of that contrasted with last month’s WSJ report which said that Apple was in fact already talking to Hollywood producers about developing high-profile shows. At the time, my reaction was that those efforts seemed too little too late. Cue’s comments tonight suggest that Apple isn’t even going there anyway.

    All of this once again raises the question of how, despite Apple’s massive resources, the company seems to have totally missed out on becoming a major player in TV as viewers move to OTT options. While Netflix, Amazon and Google/YouTube have built huge video businesses, Apple has never been able to get out of the starting gate.

    Cue also threw some shade at ad-supported TV, highlighting his kids’ and his aversion to ads. Both the apps show and Carpool will be ad-free to Apple Music subscribers. He also said  a number of times that discovery was the main issue in TV and OTT today.

    Right at the end of the session Cue was asked how he’d measure the success of Apple’s first 2 shows and what the ROI was. He said he doesn’t think in terms of an ROI for these shows at all, nor even in any economic terms. Earlier he had said a number of times he wanted to see how things go with he shows before investing further. Reading between the lines, it felt like he was essentially saying the shows are another “hobby” for Apple, at least for now, and not part of a more comprehensive strategy.

    Years after Steve Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that he had “cracked” Apple’s approach to TV, the company seems to still be spinning its wheels, even as big competitors are hitting their stride. The app show and Carpool may become popular, but they’re not going to do anything to help achieve Jobs’s big vision.