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Here's Apple's plan to overtake Disney Plus and Netflix

(Image credit: Apple)

Compared to rival streaming services like Disney Plus and Netflix, Apple TV Plus is small potatoes these days. But a new report in the Wall Street Journal suggests that Apple is eager to find ways to close the content gap.

According to a story in the Wall Street Journal today (Dec. 19), Apple has held talks with both MGM and the Pac-12 Network to add more movies and shows to its streaming service while also potentially branching out into live sports programming. The article describes the talks as preliminary, so don't expect to fire up your Apple TV and find James Bond and the USC Trojans waiting for you any time soon. But it does indicate that Apple is thinking beyond its own original programming as a way to make Apple TV Plus a more compelling service.

Consider that Disney Plus launched in November with hundreds of movies and TV shows from the studio's vault of family-friendly programming and that it's rolled out several original shows like The Mandalorian. Netflix has a years-long head start on its rivals, and has an extensive library of its own original shows augmented by deals with studios to cycle movies and TV shows in and out of rotation.

In contrast, the pickings are slimmer at Apple TV Plus, which currently features around 10 programs, none of which have approached the buzz that Netflix's slate of originals routinely generates. Apple is certain to roll out more shows — back in August, the Financial Times reported that Apple had spent $6 billion on new TV shows and movies for Apple TV Plus — and right now, many Apple TV Plus subscribers are getting the service for free, thanks to a promotion that gives you 12 free months when you buy an Apple device. 

It's what happens after that 12-month trial is up and Apple TV Plus customers have to decide if the service is worth $4.99 a month. Apple clearly sees more content as the way to make that decision a lot easier.

A deal with MGM would certainly go a long way to giving Apple more programming at its disposal. According to the Journal's report, buying the studio would give it a library of titles featuring everything from James Bond movies to the Addams Family, with Apple either able to stream that programming on Apple TV Plus or create new original content without having to shell out licensing fees. (Apple would have to dip into its bank vault to pull off such a purchase — the Journal estimates that MGM would cost about $10 billion — though Apple ended its last fiscal quarter with $205.9 billion in cash.)

Live sports would be another area where Apple could potentially branch out. The tvOS app features a Sports section within thee TV app, but it links out to sports programming available through third-party apps like Fox and ESPN. Doing a deal with the Pac-12 would give Apple access to regular collegiate football and basketball games, albeit from a single conference.

Based on the Journal report, it doesn't sound like a deal is forthcoming on either the MGM or sports front. But the fact that Apple is having these talks suggest that there's more coming to Apple TV Plus in 2020 than just more original shows.