Apple TV Plus is buying a ton of shows to take on Netflix

Apple TV Plus
(Image credit: Future)

Apple TV Plus wants to build a library. The young streaming service launched with only original shows, but is buying older TV series and movies to fill its back catalog.

Bloomberg reports that Apple TV Plus is "aiming to build a back catalog of content that can better stack up against the huge libraries available on Netflix, Hulu and Disney Plus." The company has met with Hollywood studios to talk about licensing older content and has already bought some movies and shows. 

That follows on reports from earlier this year that Apple was in preliminary talks with MGM (the studio that owns the James Bond franchise) and the PAC-12 conference, possibly giving the streaming service its first live sports broadcasts.

From the start, Apple TV Plus focused solely on originals, throwing big money at big names like Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Evans and Oprah Winfrey. The streaming service launched in November with The Morning Show, See, Dickinson and other titles and later rolled out well-reviewed series like Defending Jacob and the excellent documentary The Beastie Boys Story

Apple CEO Tim Cook maintained that approach as recently as February. He told shareholders, "Apple TV Plus is about original programming, it doesn’t feel right to just go out and take a rerun."

But Apple TV Plus didn't really catch on — it hasn't garnered the attention or subscriber totals achieved by last fall's other new streaming service, Disney Plus. According to Bloomberg, by February, Apple TV Plus had just 10 million members to Disney Plus' 28.6 million. And Apple's number includes people who got a yearlong free trial with a product purchase, so it's no surprise that only half of that 10 million actively use the streaming service.

What has helped make Disney Plus a roaring success out of the gate — and what has propelled Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video for years — is an extensive, vast library of older shows and movies. All of those streaming services have thousands upon thousands of titles; Apple TV Plus only has around 30 originals. Then again, it's also cheaper than its competitors at $4.99 per month.

Now, it seems Apple is considering shifting its strategy, especially in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. First, more people want more streaming content than ever. And second, the shutdown of most film and television productions has slowed the pipeline of new content. Acquiring or licensing older shows and movies would fill the gap and could give subscribers a reason to stay after their free trial is over in the fall.

Apple TV Plus next debuts the animated musical comedy Central Park on May 29, then the documentaries Dear and Dad in June. 

Kelly Woo
Streaming Editor

Kelly is the streaming channel editor for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.