With reports suggesting that Apple execs are meeting with Hollywood studios to discuss licensing older content to be included in the Apple TV+ service we examine what's gone wrong with Apple TV+ and how Apple is fixing it.
While there are some great shows on Apple TV+ the service is struggling to compete against competition from Amazon Prime, Netflix and Disney+ all of which offer massive back catalogues of content that is included in the subscription.
Disney, for example, signed up 10 million users within a day of the launch of Disney+ and now has more than 50m subscribers, while Netflix added 16m customers in the first quarter of 2020. Their subscriber numbers will only have grown in the Coronavirus Lockdown.
While Apple had managed to gain 10 million subscribers for its Apple TV+ service by February 2020, of those 10 million subscribers only half are actively using the service, according to Bloomberg.
We can only speculate about why not all of these subscribers are using the service, but we’d suggest that there are a number of reasons:
You might suppose that a large percentage of those subscriber numbers include those who signed up for a free one-year subscriptions given away with sales of certain Apple products. It’s often the case that when someone gets something for free they tend not to value it in the same way as someone who paid for it and that could explain why someone of these customers might not become heavy users of the service.
However, the picture is even more bleak than that: according to calculations by Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi, based on Apple’s figures about sign ups for Apple TV+ only around 10% of customers who could get a free-year’s subscription have signed up for it. If people are deciding not to use something that they are being given for free then there’s a serious problem.
Why aren’t these people with free subscriptions using Apple TV+? One reason could be that when they first looked at the service, perhaps after purchasing the iPhone 11 in the autumn/fall of 2019, there weren’t many shows on offer. At launch in November 2019 there were a limited number of shows available on Apple TV+, with shows like See and The Morning Show being relied on to encourage subscriptions.
Over the months Apple has added new content and built up a library of around 30 different shows and movies, including our favourites Trying and Mythic Quest: Ravens Banquet. But 30 shows can’t compete with the huge catalogues of Netflix and Disney+, and, if you are anything like us, among the 30 or so shows there are only a handful that appeal to you. Read our Guide to what's on Apple TV+ to see what's on offer.
That’s not to say it’s not excellent content. Those shows that we have watched were enjoyable, and we are looking forward to the next seasons, but if your first impression of the service had been made when there were only a few shows on offer you’d be forgiven for assuming that the picture hadn’t changed that much.
How Apple’s encouraging people to subscribe to Apple TV+
There’s a reason why people aren’t aware about what’s on Apple TV+ - Apple’s not been actively promoting it. If you’d seen anything about a show (other than in Apple’s keynotes) it probably came from the team making it rather than Apple. However, that has recently changed: at the end of April 2020 the company had three TV ads running in the US showing clips from popular shows including The Morning Show, See, Servant, Home Before Dark and Defending Jacob as well as movies The Banker and The Beastie Boys Story. One of these ads can be seen below. We’ve yet to see these ads on UK TV.
The company has also tried a few strategies aimed at getting people to try the service. From mid-April 2020 Apple made a number of Apple TV+ shows free to watch, including popular shows such as Little America, Servant, For All Mankind and Dickinson.
By making a number of shows free to watch Apple should be able to get people who haven’t subscribed to take a look at what’s on offer - assuming they know to look.
This is in addition to everyone being able to watch the first episode of a show without having to subscribe. So, if the show you want to watch isn’t free, you can at least try it out without subscribing. This has been the case since Apple TV+ launched in November 2019.
If you are sufficiently hooked after watching the first episode you might then choose to subscribe so you can continue to watch the show. Apple’s next challenge is to keep you as a subscriber: because subscriptions to Apple TV+ are renewed monthly it is possible to end your subscription as soon as you finish watching the show. Users who aren’t finding appealing content would be advised to do so (here’s how to stop a subscription to Apple TV+).
Apple might want to consider a discounted year’s subscription like Disney+ offers as a way to keep subscribers.
How Apple can make Apple TV+ more appealing?
Apple’s got plenty of content available to users of its TV app: you can pay to rent or buy movies and TV shows from the iTunes Store, and you can search for a show you want to watch within the TV app and then jump into the app that hosts it. But you don’t get anything other than the original shows Apple has financed for the service as part of your subscription.
The Apple-funded shows are good, but they aren’t enough to justify the £4.99/$4.99 a month price?
That’s not to say £4.99/$4.99 a month isn’t an appealing price. It is less than Netflix (from £8.99/$12.99 a month), Disney+ (£5.99/$6.99 a month or £59.99/$69.99 a year) and Amazon Prime (£7.99/$8.99 a month or £79/$119 a year). But Netflix has thousands of titles to choose from, Disney has its entire back catalogue, and Amazon Prime also offers free next day deliveries. While Apple TV+ has about 30 original movies and TV shows (and now some of them are being given away for free).
The only way Apple can ensure that its service has something for everyone is to add more content, and the best way to do this is to open up back catalogues of existing content, which is exactly what Bloomberg sources have revealed Apple is doing.
Apple execs are said to be meeting with Hollywood studios to discuss licensing older content to be included in the Apple TV+ service.
If Apple manages to gather a decent catalogue of content perhaps it will be able to compete with the likes of Netflix and Disney+.
Bloomberg claims that Apple has already acquired some shows and movies. The question is how long will we have to wait before Apple allows subscribers access to them. With people spending more time at home than ever before this is the prime time for Apple to enter the primetime, but will it act quickly enough?
With reports indicate that Apple TV+ only has 3% market share in the US (as of January 2021) perhaps it's too late.