More Questions Than Answers: Those Apple TV Show Rumors

There’s a story today in the Wall Street Journal, one of those someone-told-someone-who-told-us pieces (e.g. no official comments from Apple) that the hardware giant is about to get into the content game in a big league way.

Today’s rumors have them talking to producers and other Hollywood hotshots about helping Apple acquire rights to big budget shows on the order of “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld.” Said shows would be available via the Apple Music app (rather than iTunes) as a way for Apple Music to compete against Spotify. The assumption, according to our friend Jesse Redniss, Chief Innovation Officer at Turner, is that Apple Music would be step one and that Apple would then roll things out on a broader scale.

That’s a good thing because nothing makes Apple sound thirstier than a scheme to get people to switch to Apple Music by dangling a couple of high end TV series in front of them.

Like many “we hear” stories, the article raises as many questions about Apple’s intents as it answers. Because in addition to “the Apple Music thing is just temporary, isn’t it?” we’re wondering:

Will Apple Let Shows Live Outside The Wall? Given that it’s Apple, that’s question number one: will Apple limit availability to Apple devices in an attempt to give those devices (iPhones, iPads and Apple TV) added cachet, or will they be wise to the ways of latter half of the 2010s and open their programming up to Android, Roku, Amazon and the rest. If Apple Music is the primary distribution platform, that’s a sign that openness will be the order of the day (Apple Music is available via Android.) But given Apple’s history of giving the cold shoulder to Amazon and Google (e.g. no Amazon Prime app on Apple TV) this remains a very open question.

Will Other Services Allow Apple Music On Their devices? This is the inverse of the previous question: Will Roku, Amazon Fire and Chromecast allow Apple Music apps? Will smart TVs come with Apple Music built in to the interface? Because if Apple is going to succeed here, they will not be able to go it alone, and given their previous bad attitude, there’s a good chance that Google and Amazon in particular might just tell them to go take a hike.

Does A Platform With Limited Video Options Have Any Appeal To Consumers? While HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu all eased into original content slowly, they already had sizable libraries of non-original video (movies and syndicated TV shows) on offer to keep subscribers happy. Apple has nothing right now except for the songs on Apple Music, and it’s unclear whether that will keep subscribers hanging around while Apple gradually fills out the video line-up with original shows.

Is Apple Going To Hire Their Own Ted Sarandos? One of the key reasons tech companies struggle with TV is that they don’t have anyone on staff who knows the industry. Rather than reaching out to Hollywood types who happen to be Apple fan boys, Apple needs to have someone in-house who gets it, sort of what Facebook did with College Humor’s Ricky Van Veen. Otherwise you wind up with the $100M version of “Scare PewDiePie.” And that’s not in anyone’s best interest.

What Happens To Apple’s Go-To Business Strategy? For years, the Apple plan has been simple: go into a nascent market with a product that’s prettier and more user-friendly than the current market leaders and steal their thunder. It’s something they’ve been doing since their machines first learned to talk. But their current competitors all have decent interfaces and usability, and so this time Apple is going to be playing catch-up, especially if all it launches with is a handful of new series and a not-particularly-groundbreaking music player. That means Apple is going to need a new roadmap here, maybe one that takes advantage of their hardware offerings. What will it be?

Is Toe-Dipping An Effective Strategy? Apple used to not be shy about taking risks. But TV isn’t something they know a lot about. Many are wondering why they didn’t jump in feet first, buying up a major studio so they could hit the ground running? Has Apple gotten wise or are they just being overly cautious? And if the latter, is that a good strategy for Apple and its shareholders?

There have been numerous other Apple TV rumors over the years, most of them revolving around either the rumored physical TV set or a virtual pay-TV service. None of those rumors have ever turned out to be true however, either because they weren’t or because Apple backed out somewhere along the way. That’s why we’re thinking there’s every reason to suspect that this one won’t pan out either.

But if it does, Apple’s got a lot of explaining to do first.

Originally published at on January 12, 2017