I dip in and out of streaming services, cancelling and renewing my subscriptions depending on what's on tap in a given month. (My colleague Henry T. Casey's recommendations on what streaming services to cancel have proven invaluable in that regard.) And this month, it happens to be Apple TV Plus' turn in the rotation.
And that explains why the other night I was poking around the Apple TV app, looking to give Slow Horses a try, when I noticed that Apple TV Plus was offering another spy drama featuring Gary Oldman. Only instead of a thumbnail of Oldman as the disheveled Jackson Lamb staring at me, it was a thumbnail of a more put-together Gary Oldman as George Smiley.
Yes, Apple TV Plus is currently making Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy available to stream (something to hold us off until the top Apple TV Plus shows and movies of 2023 hit). In fact, that's just one of nearly two dozen different titles you can currently find on Apple's subscription-based streaming service.
"Well, shouldn't streaming services offer movies?" you may be demanding right now, and you'd certainly be right about that. And indeed, Apple TV Plus offers plenty of movies and TV shows, which is why it ranks among the best streaming services out there.
But up until recently, those movies and TV shows available through Apple TV were all originals. Yes, there was the occasional Charlie Brown special that Apple snapped up the rights to, but otherwise, Apple was bankrolling its own content.
That's led to some wonderful things for Apple TV Plus — any of you other streaming services have a Best Picture Oscar to wave around? — but it also leaves the service prone to customer churn. When Apple TV Plus has originals want to see, like say a new season of Ted Lasso, I'm going to stick around and maybe sample some of the other programming available to stream. And if there's not anything I'm eager to watch, I'm more prone to bounce, only returning when the programming I like does.
There's a simple solution to this, and you'll find it in practice at other streaming services — offer a back catalog of movies and other programming that keep your subscribers engaged. We've heard rumors of Apple thinking about doing just that — remember when the company was going to snap up MGM's library of movies? — but that has yet to happen.
Near as I can tell, things changed around the start of November, about the same time that the Jennifer Lawrence-led Causeway showed up on Apple TV Plus. In addition to this drama about a veteran adjusting to civilian life, Apple TV Plus viewers were given the option to see past Jennifer Lawrence projects such as The Hunger Games series and Silver Linings Playbook.
That explains what Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is doing on Apple TV Plus right now, and it might also account for other cloak-and-dagger-themed content like Mission Impossible 4, The Bourne Ultimatum and Argo popping up in Apple TV Plus. Apple describes these offerings as "a limited-time subscriber bonus," with all four movies hanging around until December 31.
It's not just spy pictures. Because Will Ferrell is currently apearing in the Apple TV original, I can also sample some of his earlier movies from the ridiculous (Old School) to the sublime (Anchorman) to whatever the hell Kicking and Screaming is supposed to be.
Apple hasn't really made a big fuss about these Apple TV Plus extras so far as I can tell, so if it's unclear whether new movies are going to be shuffled in and out of the service every month to complement the originals Apple plans to offer. But I really hope it's the case.
As I noted above, the biggest shortcoming to Apple TV Plus is the lack of stickiness — it's too easy for folks like me to leave the service and, potentially, never come back when the shows we like are on hiatus or have run their course. Apple's addressing this in some way with live sports — it featured weekly baseball doubleheaders over the summer and Major League Soccer coverage commences in earnest next year. That might keep me from hitting the cancel button, and I imagine a wider library of shows — even ones that don't belong to Apple — would be another reason to keep that monthly subscription going.
The arrival of more movies on Apple TV Plus comes at an interesting time for streaming services. HBO Max seems to be actively paring back what it offers, even shows like Westworld that it originally bankrolled. I recently gave Peacock the heave-ho, as that service ditches some of its smarter original comedies to become the true-crime and horror network. And of course Netflix's problems with subscriber rentention are well documented (Netflix canceling shows after just two seasons can't be helping that).
Only two streaming services seem to have any idea on how to please their audiences these days — Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus. And Apple's willingness to adapt is a big reason why.