When Apple launched Apple TV Plus, Netflix already had about 160 million subscribers and Disney Plus was at the brink of launch. By now, we’d seen it all — the excitement before a series premiere, scheduling weekend time to binge-watch 10 episodes in one go, lying awake in bed finishing a hair-raising finale before Monday rolls in. The cycle was set and a lethargy had creeped in knowing another new TV show, probably as good as the last one, was on its way to your watchlist, waiting to be streamed.
Along came Apple TV Plus and with it came a very different kind of strategy. Apple TV might not have had the immediate success seen by others such as Disney Plus but I love that Apple is doing things a bit differently.
Sure, on the surface it sounds like the same old story. Apple’s originals boast a stellar star cast and strong storylines, backed by celebrity names and award-winning filmmakers. It all sounds too familiar. But Apple differentiates itself by doing a few things that make it stand out.
Three is not a crowd
Instead of releasing a full series at a time or even the traditional TV “one at a time” method, Apple has settled for the good ol’ bait and hook strategy.
From ‘The Morning Show’ to ‘See’, to ‘Servant’, to ‘Truth Be Told’, Apple releases its originals three episodes at a time. Why is this so crucial? Because about three episodes is what it takes to get a viewer hooked. What’s even more ironic is that Apple TV Plus is using Netflix’s own findings to prove this three-episode theory. Netflix conducted a study a long while back claiming three episodes is what it takes to hook streamers and compel them to complete a series.
When I watched three episodes of The Morning Show, I couldn’t bring myself to cancel my 7-day free trial because I wanted more. More of one single show. Along came the rest of the big ticket titles and it became even harder to opt-out of the service. Three episodes is all you get, Apple said, and the bait was set.
While releasing a few episodes at a time is not really a new concept, Apple admittedly does this as a dedicated practice. Previously, we’ve seen Hulu take the three-episode approach with shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, Runaways, and Castle Rock. It looks like Apple has taken this tried and tested method to make sure it retains users without giving them too much content all at once, but just enough to keep them interested.
Will this be the approach Apple TV Plus takes for all shows? Maybe not, but it’s a good way to lure initial subscribers because content on the platform is scarce right now.
A tight focus on originals over syndicated content
Unlike Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video, Apple’s streaming service does not bombard the viewer with a huge slate of licensed content. There are no reruns of older TV shows and movies, only fresh original programming. While that might not be attractive for some, for a serial streamer like me, it’s actually a breath of fresh air.
And there’s some pretty good content out there. In its first year, Apple’s The Morning Show — starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston — has bagged multiple Golden Globe nominations. Truth Be Told is another gripping crime drama. M. Night Shyamalan’s Servant takes the horror genre and twists it into a thrilling narrative. All in all, Apple TV originals are nothing but entertaining, and there’s lots more coming up thanks to the company investing billions of dollars into the business.
At the end of the day, it’s content that lures streamers and Apple seems to have a solid grip on it for the most part. I say that because shows like SEE and For All Mankind didn’t really live up to expectations. However, other shows like the ones mentioned above as well as titles like Ghostwriter and Dickinson have been largely well-received.
The Cupertino giant knows that people will flock towards good original programming and to survive today’s streaming wars, it has to maintain a strong content portfolio.
The price is right and the stream quality is exceptional
At $4.99 a month, Apple isn’t asking much for its content. Add to that, the company offers a free one-year subscription when you buy an iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, or iPod touch. Apple’s pricing is highly competitive when compared against Netflix’s $9/month, Hulu’s $6/month, and Prime Video’s $9/month fee.
At that price, Apple is also giving you the best stream quality out there. When I first started streaming on my 1080p Apple TV, I immediately noticed a significant difference in video quality. Switching to Apple TV Plus on a 4K Amazon Fire TV Stick was even better. That’s because Apple’s shows have the highest bitrate in the market.
Folks over at FlatpanelsHD had put this to the test and it turns out Apple TV Plus offers the highest quality 4K streaming compared to other services. Yes, that could mean streaming Apple TV shows eats up more of your data, but the quality is undeniably exceptional.
Room for improvement
While Apple TV Plus has a lot going for it, there’s certainly room for improvement. I feel the service has a lesson or two it can learn from the likes of Netflix. For instance, it doesn’t always remember where I left off watching a show. Syncing watch history across devices is also a pain. It does allow offline downloads, but it could do with Netflix’s Smart Downloads feature which automatically downloads the next episode.
The interface and UI could also do with a better design to differentiate between paid and original content. Right now, Apple TV Plus has multiple menus that repeat the same original shows.
There’s obviously more paid content to rent and buy on the service compared to original content. If Apple wants to make the service a value proposition to drive more sales for its devices, it will eventually need to close that gap. Why? Because the downside of having no licensed content means people will eventually run out of exclusive original content to watch. That’s when Apple will find it really challenging to keep people subscribing all year round.
A long road ahead
It’s still early days for Apple and it could be a while before it can compete with giants like Netflix and Amazon which have more than 100 million subscribers each. Even the newcomer Disney Plus is making a larger impact on streaming right now, with an estimated 24 million subscribers snagged by the end of November (a number which has likely gone up in the weeks since.)
Apple TV isn’t a runaway success just yet, but I’ve been impressed with the content and release strategy and remain optimistic about the platform’s future. Naysayers could argue that Apple TV Plus just doesn’t have enough content. However, each Friday brings in something new and if Apple continues to reinvent conventional streaming standards, it’ll certainly put the service up there with the cream. It’ll take time, but Apple could get there.