Comment: Despite early failures, Apple could still disrupt Hollywood with its content plans

Apple thus far has released two original content shows: the Shark Tank-style Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke, a spin-off of the popular segment from James Corden’s “The Late Late Show” on CBS.

Both of these efforts have been met with mixed to negative reviews. Planet of the Apps was criticized for its non-tech savvy panel despite its focus on technology, while Carpool Karaoke was slammed for being another reality series reliant on famous people.

While I share some of the same thoughts as those who criticized both series, I don’t think Apple should be written off entirely in the content industry just yet…

Apple’s foray into original content has been polarizing from the start. Many have criticized the efforts as distracting from the company’s central hardware and software products, which is certainly a valid concern. On the other hand, additional content efforts further increase the value of services like Apple Music.

I’ve expressed my opinion on this topic before, but I’ll rehash it quickly here. I don’t think there’s any problem with Apple venturing into the content industry as long as it is separate from its hardware and software products, and Apple seems to making an effort to do just that.

Apple has established a worldwide video unit focused on its content efforts, while it has also made a handful of significant hires in this area. Most notably, Apple hired two former Sony Television executives to lead the content work: Jamie Ehrlicht and Zack Van Amburg. Both Ehrlicht and Amburg were massively successful in their time at Sony Television, overseeing the development and release of blockbuster shows such as Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and The Crown.

“Jamie and Zack are two of the most talented TV executives in the world and have been instrumental in making this the golden age of television,” said Cue.

Most recently, Apple hired former WGN American and Tribune Studios president Matt Cherniss. He, too, has been successful in creating blockbuster programming, launching two of WGN’s most popular series with “Salem” and “Manhattan.”

Finally, a report recently outlined that Apple has $1 billion dedicated to original programming with plans to produce over 10 original shows, which is the biggest sign of them all.

This marks a shift in Apple’s programming efforts. In the past, Tim Cook has explained that the company is looking to create original content when it complements existing services such as Apple Music:

In terms of original content, we have put our toe in the water doing some original content for Apple Music, and that will be rolling out through the year. We are learning from that, and we’ll go from there. The way that we participate in the changes that are going on in the media industry — that I fully expect to accelerate from the cable bundle beginning to break down.

This is something that I see changing in the future. You don’t go out and hire three of the biggest entertainment executives if you aren’t planning a big push into original programming. To me, it’s seems abundantly clear that Apple has learned its lesson from Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke and is looking to branch out in terms of content and truly compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon.

For this reason, I don’t believe Apple should be written off entirely for its first two original series, neither of which are painfully unwatchable in my opinion, just not the greatest television ever made. With the right talent and connections in Hollywood, I don’t to see any reason why Apple can’t strike gold with its own version of a critically-acclaimed series like “House of Cards” or “Stranger Things.”

To do this, Apple has to move past the mindset of creating content that only complements existing services like Apple Music and the App Store. There are only so many shows you can make that focus on music and technology. While I think it was a good strategy for the company to put its “toe in the water,” this approach isn’t sustainable over time.

There’s one elephant in the room that I feel obligated to address, though, and that’s Eddy Cue. Apple needs to leave its original content efforts almost entirely in the hands of people like Amburg and Ehrlicht. Sure, Cue can oversee it all, but it needs to be from a distant for a few reasons.

For one, Cue should be focused on Apple’s Services business where it pertains to things like the App Store and Apple Music, not to original video content. Secondly, Cue simply doesn’t have the experience in content creation that Amburg, Ehrlicht, and others have.

Cue stepping back from content efforts would be the ultimate sign to the naysayers that Apple truly is keeping content work and hardware/software development separate from one another. And that’s arguably one of the most important factors.

Apple shouldn’t give up on original content yet. Apple shouldn’t be discounted by media industry yet. The company is seemingly reevaluating its efforts and looks poised to make a more focused and thought out push into video creation, and that’s something Netflix and Amazon should fear.


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