• Apple’s Plan to Offer Video Subscriptions Would Be Smart, But Way Late

    Bloomberg reported yesterday that Apple may enable video subscriptions within its TV app, which is available across iOS devices and Apple TV. It would be a smart, although very late, move by Apple to horn in on the video subscription boom. And Bloomberg correctly characterized it as an apparent copycat effort by Apple to emulate what Amazon has been doing with its Channels program since it originally launched way back in December, 2015 as the Streaming Partners Program.

    If you haven’t used Apple’s TV app, it allows single sign-on access to many cable and broadcast TV Everywhere apps, which would otherwise need to be individually authenticated, cross-app browsing, search and recommendations and multi-platform viewing. For people with an Apple TV in particular, it’s a handy app that aggregates a lot of content (including what you’ve purchased from iTunes) and in typical Apple style, presents it in a nice interface.

    However, the TV app doesn’t include the ability to subscribe to third-party SVOD services like Amazon Channels. With cord-cutting on the rise, connected TVs widely adopted and skinny bundles starting to gain traction, the concept of consumers cobbling together multiple streaming services (free and paid) is becoming much more common. Apple has not yet provided a solid user experience for doing this, despite the fact that Apple has been in the forefront of promoting the “TV as an app” concept.

    Conversely, Amazon has been all over this and the Channels program has been a big success for the company and for the services that are participating (I’ve been a big fan from day 1). In fact, stalwart premium channels HBO and Showtime have reached record subscriber levels by participating in Channels and other OTT services. Channels allows one-click addition of dozens of different services that are then immediately available. Since Amazon has your credit card info, the billing is seamless.

    No doubt Apple has been jealously eyeing Channels’ success and, given its own massive ecosystem of devices, growing services business, which includes the subscription Apple Music service, and credit card relationships with millions via iTunes, Apple is in a perfect position to launch its own Channels-like program. It could also give a little boost to its Apple TV device, which lags behind Roku, Fire TV and Chromecast.

    As usual though in video, Apple is coming way late to the party, with Amazon having built a substantial lead. And given the constant Apple rumor mill, it’s unclear whether the Apple Channels program will actually happen.

    Speaking of coming way late to the party, Apple’s burgeoning originals effort, budgeted at $1 billion, would also benefit from the TV app offering subscriptions, because it would be a springboard for Apple to launch its own SVOD service. A huge open question has been what business model Apple will use for its big originals bet, and the company hasn’t offered any color on that at all. But with all of the A-list talent it’s been signing for its shows, it’s unlikely to be purely ad-supported or transactional.  

    For now, the subscription capability is just another Apple rumor. But if it comes to fruition, it could be a solid, albeit late, effort by Apple to participate in the booming SVOD business.