Apple won’t let me pay for Apple TV Plus — and that’s not a good sign

Apple won’t let me pay for Apple TV Plus — and that’s not a good sign
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple TV Plus occupies a weird role in my streaming service rolodex. Unlike anything I subscribe to, I've been a member since it launched. And unlike any other service I watch, I've never paid for Apple TV Plus. And I'm far from the only one.

Famously, Apple gave a one-year free trial for those who bought an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV or Mac around the time of its service's launch in November 2019. Then, quietly, Apple extended those free trials from November 2020 to February 2021. And then, oops … Apple did it again, crossing out February and writing in July.

And Apple's doing something similar for those who are paying for Apple TV Plus as part of its Apple One services bundle (which I am). Until July 2021, I'll be getting a $4.99 per month credit to my Apple ID. I found this out in an email that didn't explain why it's happening, only that it was.

I wasn't planning to cancel my Apple TV Plus subscription, though, because I just expected something good enough to come along. Which might be exactly the feeling that the company is trying to create.

Apple TV Plus trials build goodwill

To try and clear up my confusion, I called up an expert: Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst at Comscore. Interestingly enough, he explained his Apple TV situation is similar to my own: "I got my iPhone 11 the year before last, and that's when they gave me my free Apple TV Plus. It's been free ever since."

As for what's going on here, Dergarabedian notes that while he would venture that you can't rely on standard expectations that "human nature is that most people don't opt-out, they just let it ride," and that we're in a different moment because "I think we cannot discount the impact of the pandemic on many consumers' pocketbooks."

Apple won’t let me pay for Apple TV Plus — and that’s not a good sign — Mythic Quest

Apple TV Plus' Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet is worth the $4.99 per month (Image credit: Apple/Apple TV+)

This isn't Apple's pandemic pricing, though, and neither do they need to offer one when people are getting these free years by spending hundreds on phones and laptops. Dergarabedian thinks that something else is going on, that Apple may be trying to build up users mentally: "I don't want to pretend like companies are always altruistic, I'm not naive, but I think there is an understanding that if you want a consumer to be your customer, not just for a day, not just for a week or a month, but for life, often the currency of good will that's generated let's say by, "Hey, you get another month free or we'll give you another year free." It all generates goodwill. 

Of course, there's a knock-on effect from extending the length of a free trial. I could have lost track of when my free plan lapses. Because of Apple being so upfront with me about the extended trial, I now know it expires in June. And so I could have done what I normally do — set a reminder for June 1 to reconsider Apple TV Plus. But I didn't. In retrospect, I wonder why I didn't. 

Apple wants us here for when Apple TV Plus' magic arrives 

I may have just accepted the price of Apple TV in the Apple One bundle, because of how I use the other components. Or maybe Apple's free months have buttered me up, as they did with Paul. I still look back upon the Apple TV Plus content I've enjoyed — Ted Lasso, Beastie Boys Story, Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet and The Morning Show, in descending order — as proof that the service will entertain and surprise me. 

As I noted when I blogged about signing up for Apple One, Ted Lasso won "my continued interest" in what Apple TV Plus is up to. Eventually, though, I bet I'd start to realize that $5 per month could be better spent on the movies I buy or rent online (as we continue to not have movie theaters to go to). 

Apple won’t let me pay for Apple TV Plus: Beastie Boys Story

Mike D, Ad Rock and Spike Jonze make Beastie Boys Story worth watching (Image credit: Apple)

For Apple, there's also the task at hand to grow a still-young part of its business, which would be harder to do with fewer potential audience members if people cancel. If they don't keep an audience around to watch their hits as they arrive, the service could have trouble bringing them back. "It's about the long-term," Dergarabedian said, "This is, as Denzel Washington said in Training Day: 'This is chess, it ain't checkers.'"

What little we know about Apple TV Plus' numbers is not great

And this all paints a not-good portrait for how well Apple TV Plus is going as an initiative. If Apple promoted its own subscriber numbers, it might make sense for them to be using free trials to keep that number up. But while Apple has renewed multiple TV Plus shows, it hasn't announced any figures for its subscriber counts (though it doesn't release the clearest numbers for its hardware sales either), making many wonder how bad things are. 

Apple won’t let me pay for Apple TV Plus: The Morning Show

The Morning Show gets good (Image credit: Apple)

Statista projects that Apple TV Plus had 40 million users in 2020, with the word "users" doing heavy lifting. MoffettNathan reports that 62% of Apple TV Plus subscribers are getting a free ride on free trials. That same report claims 29% do not plan to resubscribe. 

When I asked about the MoffettNathanson survey response over how 29% of Apple TV Plus subscribers do not plan to resubscribe, Dergarabedian broke the value of that claim with the following words: "I don't think anyone plans to re-up, I think they just do it."  

All to keep you in the Apple ecosystem

Talking about Apple's current success, Dergarabedian and I agreed that the company looks to keep people in the family how it can, rather than risk them leave. And the more I'm around to witness any shows on the Ted Lasso level, the more I may leave with a positive opinion of Apple. 

Apple won’t let me pay for Apple TV Plus: Ted Lasso

Ted Lasso is the true gem in the Apple TV Plus lineup (Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Dergarabedian related it to how car salesmen operate, "they want to sell you one car now, but they want you to come back to buy every single car from them," before noting that cars and streaming service are much different purchases. "But, in a way," he said, "the consumer-based dynamics behind it are somewhat the same. Goodwill often leads to longer term profits and sustaining and maintaining a relationship with the consumer."

I assume Apple wants to turn a profit on Apple TV Plus some day, as reports showed the service has cost them billions, and that was just to start. But if and when the company takes away my free pass, some will definitely start to think about leaving. Hopefully, for Apple's sake, Ted Lasso season 2 comes first. 

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.