• Apple TV+ Will Get Off to a Fast Start, But Long-Term Future is Uncertain

    Apple finally revealed details of its Apple TV+ SVOD service and by all accounts it looks poised to get off to a fast start when it launches on November 1st. Positives include 9 original shows from A-list talent, low pricing of $4.99 per month, 1 week trial period, ad-free viewing, binge-watching (albeit limited to 3 episodes per show to start), account sharing for 6 family members and downloading.

    But the biggest tailwind Apple TV+ will enjoy is that it will be bundled for a free year for buyers of new or Apple-refurbished iPhones, iPads, iPod touches, Apple TVs and Macs who activate Apple TV+ within 3 months of their purchase. That means millions of viewers will become exposed to Apple TV+ at no cost, especially during the all-important holiday season. There is virtually no upfront friction since the Apple TV app is pre-installed on all these devices, including Macs running the latest macOS.

    Exposure is critical for Apple TV+ because, as I’ve written before, Apple is coming very late to the video party. It’s been years since Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube and countless others have been in the market with compelling original content, building loyalty to their services. Complicating things further, strong new services from Disney, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal are also coming soon. In the era of “Peak TV” more high-quality video is being created than ever.

    All of this means Apple needs to create the easiest on ramp possible for viewers to try out Apple TV+ and then hope their shows resonate and keep subscribers hooked. In other words, get a massive quantity of viewers in the door for free, on the bet that enough of them will like what they see and decide to stay and pay.

    The risk is higher for Apple because practically every video service has first licensed existing content, and only afterwards introduced its own originals. This was the early game plan at many cable TV networks, HBO, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc. Viewers like the “comfort food” nature of well-known and loved programs (e.g. “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” “The Office”), whereas originals are by definition unknown entities with hard to predict success rates.

    Apple appears to be bringing its full marketing and financial muscle to bear in launching Apple TV+, which is refreshing after years of lukewarm video efforts. Irrespective of free bundled offers though, how successful Apple TV+ will ultimately be depends on how good its shows are, and how willing viewers are to pay $4.99 per month to access them - huge uncertainties.