Apple TV Plus is having one hell of a summer, and I am here for it.
The still-relatively new streaming service has been releasing originals left and right, including Physical, Schmigadoon!, Lisey's Story, Mr. Corman and the Sundance Film Festival darling CODA. Oh, and Apple TV Plus dropped the second season of a little show called Ted Lasso — perhaps you've heard about it? (Probably because we keep saying how great it is.)
There's more to come, too, with The Morning Show season 2 and the Isaac Asimov adaptation Foundation dropping next month.
A few months ago, I said that I wasn't cancelling Apple TV Plus because of all their great originals. But despite enjoying several series, I find that Apple TV Plus is the streaming service I'm mostly likely to cancel, because it's lacking the one thing every single one of its competitors has: a deep library.
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A library is streaming's bread and butter
Apple TV Plus launched with only originals, no library of owned IP or third-party licensed content. That's the bedrock upon which streaming leader Netflix was built. It's how Disney Plus was able to grow to 116 million subscribers in less than two years. Taking advantage of their back catalogs is the reason HBO Max, Peacock and Paramount Plus exist.
But not so for Apple TV Plus. First of all, as a tech giant and not a media company, Apple doesn't have a back catalog of shows and movies produced in-house. It has no studio like Warner Bros. or Universal, with decades worth of movies sitting around waiting to be streamed. The House of Mouse could've launched a service with just Marvel movies and it would've been a must-subscribe for millions of people.
Apple CEO Tim Cook told shareholders in early 2020 that he wasn't interested in buying the rights to something like the Friends reunion. "It’s not what Apple TV Plus is about," he explained. "It’s about original programming. It doesn’t feel right for Apple to just go out and take a rerun."
Meanwhile, HBO Max ponied up $425 million to take the entirety of Friends away from Netflix (granted, it was essentially paying itself, since producer Warner Bros. Television is a corporate sibling). And Netflix immediately made up for the loss by making a $500 million deal to stream the entirety of Seinfeld.
There's a reason why streaming services are willing to pay half a billion dollars for a reun. It's the same one that created the syndicated cable business: People love to watch reruns! Netflix may be better known for its originals now, but it became the behemoth it is today because of reruns of Friends, The Office and other TV classics.
Great originals aren't enough for Apple TV Plus
The "originals only" strategy at Apple TV Plus has shifted a bit. Last year, the company reportedly began meeting with Hollywood studios to talk about licensing older content. They acquired the Fraggle Rock series. And there have been rumors that Apple might purchase MGM, home of the James Bond movies.
But that's for the future, and the lack of a library is a problem now. As eagerly as I watch Ted Lasso every week, once I've finished a new episode, there isn't much else to do on Apple TV Plus. I've already seen all the shows I'm interested in and there aren't enough originals to go exploring. Right now, the service doesn't even need an algorithm for suggestions, since they can just list all of their titles in one place.
For all we joke about Netflix releasing a gazillion titles every week (most of which disappear into the void), they do it to keep people around. And with more than 200 million subscribers, that strategy seems to be working.
"We’re about making the best, not the most," Cook told Kara Swisher (opens in new tab) in April, still committed to their (mostly) originals policy.
Yes, quality is important, but quantity matters, too. HBO Max has become our favorite streaming service because it combines both. The fact is, a deep library prevents churn, which is what happens when users sign up for a service for one month, then cancel the next because they've watched what they want to watch. When Ted Lasso season 2 is over, I'll probably cancel Apple TV Plus until there's something else I want to watch (like For All Mankind season 3) and re-subscribe. Then, the churn cycle will begin anew.
I love Apple TV Plus; I just wish there was more of it. Meanwhile, I'll just be over here, diving into the HBO Max library ...
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