Apple TV Plus, which launches Nov. 1, is betting on A-list content and a lower subscription price as a means of competing in the increasingly saturated market of streaming services.
Its headline series is The Morning Show, a high-production-value show starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon as TV journalists in the post-#MeToo era. The cast also includes The Office‘s Steve Carell and Spotlight‘s Billy Crudup.
Another one of Apple TV Plus’s marquee series is See, about a post-apocalyptic humankind born without vision.
The show appears to be Apple’s attempt at creating a Game of Thrones-esque epic. Each episode reportedly cost $15 million US, and is led by GoT alumnus Jason Momoa and also stars Alfre Woodard, Sylvia Hoeks and Canadian Nesta Cooper. It was filmed in parts of B.C., including Vancouver Island.
See‘s executive producers told CBC they met with other streaming platforms, but in the end went with Apple Plus because they were given full creative control. That included hiring a blindness consultant and supporting cast members who are legally blind or have low vision, including Marilee Talkington.
“There’s no one like me that I’ve ever seen on screen or stage, so it’s a real responsibility,” said Talkington, who has degenerating sight due to a disease called cone-rod dystrophy. “I hope so many more [visually impaired actors] come in and people will break the limiting beliefs that they’ve had about us.”
The story behind the series might be enough to woo viewers, according to YouTuber and budding L.A. filmmaker James Rath, who is himself legally blind and consulted on See.
“People always fall back into the nostalgia of re-watching an old show that they really love, but I think we just need some more original stories told nowadays,” said Rath.
Despite its fresh programming and a lower price point than its competitors, Apple’s fledgling streaming service might not be able to convince people they need to pay for another channel.
Apple TV Plus is going to have four original programs at launch, and The Morning Show and See “have gotten pretty bad reviews,” said Travis Clark, a streaming and entertainment expert with Business Insider.
“They’re not really generating the excitement you’d hope to see with the launch of a streaming service.”
What Apple TV Plus is up against
Other projects in the works for Apple TV Plus include the psychological thriller series Servant, produced by Unbreakable director M. Night Shymalan. There’s also the revisionist comedy Dickinson, based on poet Emily Dickinson’s life, and the alternate history space race series For All Mankind.
Steven Spielberg, Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) and Oprah Winfrey are other big names who have signed on to provide content. Spielberg will debut a reboot of his 1980s fantasy-thriller anthology series Amazing Stories, while Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, are among the executive producers of the immigrant anthology series Little America. Winfrey has multiple projects in the works, including a TV version of her famous book club, which will feature discussions and author interviews.
A monthly subscription to Apple TV Plus will cost $5.99. Those who buy a new Apple device (such as an iPhone or iPad) get a free one-year subscription.
Apple isn’t the only one launching a streaming service in November. Disney Plus is coming to Canada on Nov. 12, bringing with it a significant catalogue of blockbusters, from The Lion King and Frozen to the Star Wars and Avengers franchises.
At the same time, it’s introducing Marvel Cinematic Universe spinoffs such as Wanda Vision and Loki, as well as the Star Wars TV series The Mandolorian. Given that these franchises have built-in audiences, they are highly anticipated.
Disney will charge $8.99/month (or $89.99/year).
Competitors have what Apple doesn’t — for now
Netflix remains the dominant streaming service for most people, with Amazon Prime Video and Hulu bolstering their own platforms with a combination of original content and classics to entice more subscribers. (Hulu isn’t available as a standalone service in Canada, but some of its content streams on other platforms, including Netflix and Bell Media’s Crave.)
Crave and CBC’s Gem are among the Canadian network players that have joined the streaming game. APTN recently launched APTN Lumi, which is dedicated to telling Indigenous stories.
Warner Media’s HBO Max, another upcoming service set to launch in May 2020, won’t be available to Canadians. Under a new deal, however, Crave will carry some of HBO Max’s programming on its premium HBO tier.
The streaming market has become so saturated that there’s a website called JustWatch, which helps audiences navigate which shows and movies belong to which platform.
Clark said the biggest weakness with Apple TV Plus is the lack of licensed content available, which is what fortifies some of its competitors.
“Disney has a collection of their classic movies. Warner Media picked up Friends. They picked up South Park. Netflix obviously has a lot of licensed content beyond their originals,” said Clark.
“Apple is definitely going to need to reach outside their comfort zone if they want to build up an actual streaming service that can be competitive beyond just these high-cost originals that they’re making.”