It’s the biggest question in Hollywood that everyone is asking, and no one has an answer yet: What will Apple’s upcoming video offering actually look like, and how will it be delivered to viewers?
“I don’t know, and nobody knows, and it makes me nervous,” said one top Hollywood agent. “I’d sell one-off deals with Apple all day long. But I’d never do a [major, long-term talent deal] with them because I don’t know what it means to be an Apple show. How do they market it? Where’s it going to show up? How are people going to see it? It makes no sense to me.”
All is expected to be revealed later this fall, as Apple gears up to enter an already saturated marketplace in early 2019. The competition is fierce: Netflix has 125 million customers globally, while Amazon just revealed that Prime has 100 million consumers (although most of those users are presumably in it for the free shipping, not TV shows). Hulu is also in the mix, albeit at a much smaller level, and Disney is prepping its own big entry.
But Apple has a major leg up: Its hardware is already pervasive around the globe. The company has more than 1.3 billion devices currently in use worldwide — instant wide penetration for whatever new TV app might pop up on everyone’s screens when the time is right.
Apple has been quiet about its TV ambitions so far, beyond occasionally confirming another big-budget project with A-list stars and producers attached. That’s a bit out of character for TV bosses Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, who were much more accessible as the presidents of Sony Pictures Television, where they were required to make extra noise as an independent studio without a network attached.
Van Amburg and Erlicht report to Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, who admitted during a SXSW interview last month that “we don’t know anything about making television.” But he did outline that the team of about 40 staffers now charged with populating Apple’s video content would be focused on quality over quantity — with “a few surprises… we think there are ways to leverage technology to make the viewing experience even better.”
He also noted, of course that money isn’t an issue — Apple says it has $285 billion in cash available. For Van Amburg and Erlicht, while they had to make creative deals in order to make budgets work at Sony, they now have upwards of $1 billion in programming money to play with. And they’re using it.
“They’re big buyers,” an agent said. “So we’ve got another big buyer [along side Netflix, HBO and others].” Added a frustrated rival streaming executive: “I’ve lost out on a lot of things to them. I know they’re spending a lot of money.”
Much has been reported that Apple is focused on fare that isn’t too dark or edgy, although that’s not quite the mandate — more simply, Apple is likely looking for broad fare that will appeal to a wide swath of Apple users. It’s similar to what Amazon Studios is aiming to do now with its own program readjust. Under Van Amburg and Erlicht, Apple is developing fare under adult drama and children departments, as well as for Latin American and European programming.
Will viewers have to pay a subscription for the new fare, just like they now have to pay for Apple Music in order to watch the “Carpool Karaoke” series? What will the new service be called? Will it appear as its own app? What about viewers who don’t currently have an Apple device? Stay tuned. For now, here’s what we do know: A list of programs that have been picked up by Apple.
“Amazing Stories” (Universal TV/Amblin TV): A new take on the Steven Spielberg anthology thriller series. Bryan Fuller is no longer involved as showrunner, but a replacement is expected to be named soon. 10 episodes.
“Central Park” (20th Century Fox TV): Animated musical series from Loren Bouchard, Josh Gad and Nora Smith, about a family of caretakers who save Central Park and the world. Voice talent includes Gad, Kristen Bell, Tituss Burgess, Daveed Diggs, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., and Stanley Tucci. Ordered for two seasons, at 13 episodes each.
“Home” (Time Inc./MediaWeaver/Altimeter Films): Docuseries that takes a look inside “the world’s most extraordinary homes, and the boundary-pushing imagination of the visionaries who dared to dream and build them.”
“See” (Chernin Entertainment): From creator Steven Knight, “an epic world-building drama set in the future.” Francis Lawrence is director.
Untitled Damien Chazelle project (MRC/Automatik/Original Headquarters): Chazelle is writing and directing this hush-hush project.
Untitled Kristen Wiig project (Hello Sunshine): Wiig stars in this half-hour based on Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story collection “You Think It, I’ll Say It.” Collen McGuinness is creator and showrunner, while Wiig and Reese Witherspoon are also executive producers. 10 episodes.
Untitled M. Night Shyamalan project (Blinding Edge Pictures): M. Night Shyamalan and writer Tony Basgallop are behind the half-hour, 10-episode original thriller. Shyamalan will also direct the first episode.
Untitled Morning Show project (Echo Films/Hello Sunshine/Media Res): Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon star and executive produce this look at the world of morning TV news. Kerry Ehrin is showrunner. Picked up for two seasons, 10 episodes each.
Untitled Ronald D. Moore project (Sony Pictures TV/Tall Ship Prods.): Moore, Ben Nedivi, and Matt Wolpert created and wrote the pilot, about what would have happened if the space race had continued.
“Are You Sleeping” (Chernin Entertainment/Hello Sunshine): From creator Nichelle Tramble, the show is inspired by America’s obsession with true crime podcasts and based on the Kathleen Barber novel “Are You Sleeping.” Executive producers also include Octavia Spencer and Reese Witherspoon.
“Foundation” (Skydance Media/Endeavor Content): From executive producers Josh Friedman and David Goyer, based on the Isaac Asimov novel about humans on planets throughout the galaxy, under Galactic Empire rule.
“Little America” (Universal TV): Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon are among the executive producers on this comedy, an anthology series based on stories in Epic Magazine about the lives of immigrants in America. Lee Eisenberg is showrunner.
“Swagger” (Imagine TV/ Thirty Five Media): Based on Kevin Durant’s life growing up playing basketball in Washington, D.C. Reggie Rock Bythewood is director and writer.