In a late move reminiscent of Cersei Lannister’s season seven machinations against the Dragon Queen and the King in the North, Apple has announced its presence in the streaming content battle in a serious way.
For those of us watching the Game of FANGs from our lowly perches (or sofas, as the case may be), it’s time to grab the popcorn and watch the heavyweights duke it out for streaming supremacy.
At the company’s March keynote event last week, the Apple King, Tim Cook, announced his company is joining the streaming content fray with a bevy of programs built by a Golden Army of creatives, including Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, M. Night Shymalan, Reese Witherspoon, and Kumail Nanjiani.
In typical Apple fashion, the announcement was wrapped in lofty ideals, soaring aspirations, and just a twinge of condescension.
Harkening back to Steve Jobs’ announcement of the second generation of Apple TV in 2010, King Tim played the role of Daenarys Targaryen, reminding us that Apple has “always tried to make the world a better place,” adding that his company believes deeply in the power of creativity.
“Great stories can change the world. Great stories can move us and inspire us. They can surprise us and challenge our assumptions,” he said.
“We feel we can contribute something important to our culture and our society with great storytelling, so we partnered with the most thoughtful, accomplished, and award-winning group of visionaries who have ever come together in one place to create a new service unlike anything that has been done before.”
This royal proclamation dutifully honored the legacy of the first Apple King, Steve Jobs, who announced the pulse of his subjects years ago, noting the people “want Hollywood movies and TV shows whenever they want them. They don’t want amateur hour. They want professional content.”
In 2010, Steve Jobs shared the vision for Apple TV+ (released in 2019): “people want Hollywood movies and TV shows whenever they want them. They don’t want amateur hour. They want professional content.”Tweet
In the still very new Steve Jobs Theater located on-campus in Cupertino, Tim Cook addressed a group of journalists, tech pundits, and A-list celebrities, in which he tugged at his lords’ heartstrings through a series of platitudes proclaimed over a bed of inspirational music as he re-introduced our greatest hero …
With the help of Oprah, Apple intends to remind us all “how much ideas matter.”
“There has never been a moment quite like this one,” she said. “We have this unique opportunity to rise to our best selves in how we use and choose to use both our technology and our humanity. We all crave connection. That’s why I have joined forces with Apple. The Apple platform allows me to do what I do in a whole new way. They’re in a billion pockets, y’all!”
As one of those billion customers and as a consumer of an ever-growing flood of content, it’s easy to jadedly dismiss the black turtleneck ideals of one of the largest consumer brands in the world. But that is perhaps overly dismissive of the company’s ambitions. Especially when contrasted against King Mark of House Zuckerberg’s streaming offering.
With its formidable army of nearly two billion zombies–excuse me, I meant active users, Facebook beat Apple to the battle with the launch of Facebook Watch in 2017. In case you haven’t noticed or have forgotten, Facebook has been procuring and streaming original content for almost two years now.
Yes, the home of your Uncle Ned’s overtly racist and conspiratorial QAnon ramblings and poorly-lit, out-of-focus pasta alfredo photos from some dude you haven’t seen since middle school, has their own streaming service. When Facebook Watch launched, it was heralded as the coming of winter for traditional networks and streaming services. The social media giant was going to directly assault broadcasters’ revenue by changing the way people interacted with video content.
When Facebook launched their video streaming platform, they proclaimed their mission was to create video that was intrinsically social. It was going to be content that people could gather around and discuss in real time. But by all accounts, Facebook has missed the mark.
With their house in more disorder than House Greyjoy, the company has yet to find a breakout hit. That’s okay though, according to Fidji Simo, Facebook’s VP of video. “What we’re really going after is the amount of conversation and engagement, and that can be realized both in niche communities or in broad hits,” Simo said. “But we’re not really going for massive viewership.”
Great strategy, Simo.
Meanwhile, the other houses are outspending the social networking site by a significant margin. Netflix is spending $6 billion on original programming, with Amazon committing $4.5 billion, and Hulu in third place with $2.5 billion.
Apple and Facebook both launched their streaming services with about $1 billion budget for original content, but the smartphone company took a decidedly different approach than Facebook.
Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of internet software and services (who apparently went to a different business school than Simo) said, “Apple TV+ will be home to some of the highest quality original storytelling that TV and movie lovers have seen yet.”
Again with those lofty goals.
A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep
In yet another reminder of humanity’s ultimate doom, this is Facebook’s attempt to “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
What the hell kind of community is built onTroy the Magician and his modern-day magic feats?
What does it say about Facebook’s view of humanity that they believe the way to bring people together is through crappy reality TV programming? If your goal is to create something people talk about, why set the content bar so low?
But who are we to say? Without our own Cambridge Analytica (the Master of Whisperers), we may be the ones who are off the mark. Facebook Watch’s ratings, however, suggest we may be right.
While Facebook doesn’t release internal metrics for its programming, Simo said in December of 2018 that the company’s video streaming platform had 400 million monthly users – with the caveat the number is based on people who spend more than one minute watching. By that metric, anyone who’s stopped on a Flex Seal commercial on Animal Planet could be considered a Pit Bulls and Parolees viewer.
While Facebook may not be striving for Game of Thrones or House of Cards numbers, couldn’t the argument be made to strive for quality content? Instead, they seem to have missed the mark on quantity of viewers and quality of programming.
That said, nearly 30 million viewers tuned in to watch Geraldo Rivera’s Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults.
But if you’re trying to parrot TLC out of the gates, there’s nowhere to go but down.
While it’s easy to mock Apple’s grandiose ambitions in creating make-believe stories they hope will change the world, I’d rather follow that army across the sea to Dragonstone than march off to join Elizabeth Olsen and the undead in the North.