I don’t plan on subscribing to Apple Music when my free trial of the service runs out. It’s not really something I care to pay $10 a month for. I’m not an avid music listener; I sometimes put some hip hop on in the car, but that’s about it. For me, paying $10 every month for access to a large library of music that I don’t plan to use to the fullest extent just isn’t worth it, and I prefer to own what music I do listen to.
I also hate the idea of subscription software, like Adobe’s current Creative Cloud offering. Like my music, I’d rather own my software outright than pay a monthly fee to have access to it. The same is true for just about every other subscription service that’s out there.
So it might surprise you to find out that I think Apple should get into the TV and movie subscription business. What’s more, I’d be willing to pay every single month for access to that service. Why the difference of opinion on this topic? Keep reading and find out.
Screen vs. Speakers
One of the big differentiators between movies and music is the type of content that each one presents. Movies (and TV shows) tell a story that’s typically intended to be best received on its first viewing. In other words, once you’ve seen a movie or a show, you know what’s going to happen, and some of the drama, suspense, or surprise is taken out of it. Sure, you may say a movie is “just as good” on the second or third viewing, but in most cases, that’s just not going to be the case.
Music, on the other hand, doesn’t rely so much on drama and surprises to draw people in. A song or album truly can be “just as good” every time no matter how much you listen to it. It’s a whole different medium.
It makes sense to want to build a library of songs you enjoy, create playlists, and listen to the same songs many times over. With movies, unless it’s a real favorite, most people prefer to watch one just once or twice. The same usually goes for TV shows. One can binge-watch a series once, move on, go back and re-watch it again later, but eventually the show will get old.
So there’s a big difference in the “use case” for music versus movies and TV shows. How does that tie in to the idea of a movie subscription service?
For starters, it helps define how people would use the service, and what types of features it should offer. While Apple Music needs the ability to add songs to your library and create playlists, the chances of someone wanting to create a playlist of movies (aside from a Netflix style queue) don’t seem very high. Apple could forgo the parts of Apple Music that caused so many problems (the management) and opt for something much simpler.
Here’s what I propose: a streaming service that lets subscribers choose any movie or TV show from the iTunes Store and watch it. Subscribers could watch unlimited movies and TV shows whenever they want.
If that sounds an awful lot like Netflix, that might be because it is. The big difference between the two competitors then would be content. Apple has a much larger selection of new and current shows that Netflix just can’t match. In the same way that Apple Music subscribers are able to listen to new albums on release day, subscribers to this service would be able to watch new TV shows the day after they air, and new movies the day they release on iTunes.
By The Hour
“But, Mike,” I’m sure you’re thinking, “It’s not quite the same! Movies and TV shows are so much more expensive than music!” Glancing over the prices on the iTunes Store, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? Actually, as it turns out, that’s not the case at all.
To demonstrate how music is, in all seriousness, much more expensive than a TV series or movie let’s do a little bit of math. Bear with me here, because this is going to take a little time to explain, but it’s an important point in understanding why a service like this makes sense.
First, we’ll establish some basic references to use in our formula.
I looked at the prices of a few popular recent movie releases to determine what a likely price might be for a new release. Here’s what I found:
- Avengers: Age of Ultron – $20
- Ant-Man – $20 (pre-order)
- Straight Outta Compton – $15 (pre-order)
- Mad Max: Fury Road – $10 (limited-time price)
- The Imitation Game – $10
Given these numbers, it’s safe to say that unless a movie is set at a special price to drive sales (like Mad Max above), $20 is a reasonable asking price for a recently-released action blockbuster.
Based on the average lengths of movies and songs, let’s assume that every song is exactly four minutes long, and that every movie is exactly two hours long.
Now, let’s say you’ve got two hours to kill.
Assuming that you want to listen to a nice mix of artists and genres and don’t want to hear any songs repeated during your listening session, you’ll need to buy 15 songs to fill up your hour. At $1.29 a pop on iTunes (not buying full albums to ensure a mix of styles and artists), those songs will cost you $19.35 for one hour of listening.
The total you have to spend on music for two hours will come out to $38.70.
If the songs are shorter than four minutes, that price goes up even more. At three minutes a song, you’ll spend $25.80 per hour, or $51.60 for two hours.
Now compare that to a movie. Our two-hour movie costs $20 and fills up our entire break. That’s $18 lower than the price for enough music to fill the same period of time—nearly 50% cheaper.
The gap grows as those movies get cheaper. Picking up Mad Max: Fury Road would save you even more money, and grabbing a slightly older release like The Imitation Game would cut your price in half again—about a quarter of the total music price.
Let’s bring TV shows into the mix. I looked at prices for the most recent full seasons of four different shows on four different types of networks featured on the iTunes Store home page to get an idea of pricing:
- The Walking Dead – cable drama, 16 episodes – $43
- The Blacklist – broadcast network action/drama, 22 episodes – $40
- Homeland – premium cable drama, 12 episodes – $31
- Rick and Morty – half-hour cable comedy, 11 episodes – $21
Because TV shows have to make room for commercials, most episodes don’t come out to exactly 60 minutes. For The Walking Dead and The Blacklist, the actual runtime per episode is 43 minutes. For Homeland, it averages at around 50 minutes. Rick and Morty runs 22 minutes.
Using these numbers, I came up with the actual price-per-hour for each show:
- The Walking Dead – $2.40
- The Blacklist – $3.65
- Homeland – $3
- Rick and Morty – $5.40
The obvious outlier here is Rick and Morty, which is mostly due to the fact that Apple charges the same price for a 22-minute episode as a 43- or 50-minute episode.
For these same prices, you can get anywhere from 1-4 songs—not even enough to fill half an hour. Thus, it can be concluded that TV shows and movies actually cost a lot less than music per hour.
But of course, none of these are actually sold “by the hour,” so what does it matter? Quite a bit, when you’re talking about streaming. With the current model, your inability or unwillingness to pay for those additional songs or episodes can put a stop to your purchases.
With streaming, the only limiting factor is the amount of free time you have to watch your show or movie. If you have two hours, nothing can stop you from watching two full hours of TV
In essence, streaming media is being sold “by the hour.” You’re not paying for an individual movie, or episode, or even a season pass. You’re paying a flat rate for an all-you-can-watch entertainment buffet. Every episode and movie you watch makes the subscription a little more “worth it.”
So how does the fact that movies and TV shows are cheaper by the hour than music play into this? Well, basically it means content providers will be missing out on less money when people choose to subscribe instead of buy. When you listen to an hour of streaming music instead of buying, that’s $19.35 that could be divided up between Apple, the label, the artist, and other contributors. Instead, a much smaller number is shared between the involved parties.
For content with a lower overall cost to you, like a TV show, Apple, the studio, and other involved parties are missing out on a much lower number in the ballpark of $3, or $10 for a movie. That loss can likely be made up for by factoring in the number of people who will watch a show they might have skipped before because it now costs them nothing to do so.
There are some other interesting factors that would come into play with such a service that don’t impact the music industry. For example, people can’t watch movies while driving or at work, though many choose to listen to music at these times. As a result, there may not be enough hours in the day for movie and TV streaming to reach the same levels of usage that music does.
It could be argued that less content being streamed at the same subscription fee as a music service (or a higher fee) means a larger piece of the pie for those who get paid, which helps negate potential losses even more.
Financially, it seems there’s less risk in putting movies and TV shows on a streaming platform than music. With services like Netflix already doing just that with great success, slapping Apple’s logo on a similar offer could be just thing we need to push the cord-cutting movement into the mainstream.
Apple vs. Netflix
A service like this makes even more sense when you consider the launch of the major Apple TV revamp next month and recent rumors that Apple is trying to get into producing original content. Launching original shows like House of Cards was a big step for Netflix, and taking that same step could help Apple set itself apart from the competition.
So how would a service like this be priced? I’m not sure. Apple Music is $10 a month, and Netflix has three plans at $8, $9, and $11. It seems like $10 could be a competitive price point for Apple as well, though I’ll also say that I’d be willing to pay a bit more than that.
While some may suggest that Netflix’s price is possible because the service doesn’t carry all of the latest titles, and that Apple streaming those titles would allow them to boost the price, I’m not convinced. After all, Apple managed to keep its own music price competitive while still making better content deals than Spotify and others.
Whether premium cable networks like HBO and Showtime got on board with this idea could also impact the cost, but with each of those networks already offering their own standalone streaming platforms, their compliance wouldn’t be necessary to make this service a cord-cutter’s dream.
In fact, if Apple released this service next month, I’d strongly consider dropping Netflix immediately. The only thing holding me back, ironically, would be Netflix’s original content. That’s the reason Netflix makes shows, after all: to lock people in so they don’t want to leave. Maybe that’s why Apple wants to create its own series, too. I certainly hope so.