Talk about showing up late to the party: the WSJ is reporting that Apple is now planning to invest in original scripted TV shows and movies. Whether the move actually materializes though is unclear. But if it does, it would be happening years after countless false starts and rumors about the company’s plans to build out a content strategy. Importantly, it would also happen as the number of scripted TV shows rocketed to over 450 in 2016, marked by “Peak TV’s” escalating budgets and intense competition.
According the WSJ article, Apple is engaged with various producers and could be offering scripted TV shows by the end of 2017. Apple’s commitment still seems modest by the standards of Netflix, Amazon and numerous TV networks, with just a handful of productions planned.
In fact, the article positions Apple’s TV initiative as a way of differentiating its Apple Music streaming music offering from market leader Spotify rather than a standalone video subscription. That strategy has its own risks as it’s not clear whether TV shows - no matter how compelling they are - can sway consumers’ decision-making on which music service to subscribe to.
Meanwhile, Spotify and the entire music subscription industry faces heightened competition from Amazon Music Unlimited (the company’s recently launched subscription service) and even from Amazon’s Prime Music, which is included at no charge for Prime members and is relatively robust itself.
As if the pressures to differentiate in music weren’t enough, Apple’s challenge to differentiate its TV shows will be steep due to the massive proliferation of scripted originals. SVOD operators Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have been the biggest contributors to driving Peak TV, with 93 shows in 2016, representing over 20% of all scripted originals, up from 7% in 2013. Netflix and Amazon in particular are changing the dynamics of scripted TV, turning global scale into table stakes. This in turn, is pressuring smaller, more regional players to keep up.
Even as SVOD continues to pour money into originals, there is already a sense, at least anecdotally, that viewers can’t keep up with all the choices. I’ve personally heard from lots of friends and colleagues that they feel “overwhelmed” by the incredible array of choices they now have. That suggests a point of saturation is already occurring, with some type of a shakeout imminent.
In this context, Apple’s move into scripted originals is loaded with uncertainty. Can TV shows really help Apple differentiate its music service? Can they even gain attention, much less attract substantial viewership, given the glut of great choices already available to viewers? And at a broader level, can they help move more iPhones, which is the company’s bread and butter? All of these questions and more will be in focus as Apple’s content plans unfold in 2017.