Apple is holding a major press event on March 25 under the tagline “It’s showtime” to finally take the wraps off its upcoming video-streaming service. Ahead of the presser, the iPhone maker has previewed some of its original programming to select members of the press.
From yesterday’s report by The New York Times:
On March 25, a delegation of producers, studio executives and big-name actors will enter the subterranean 1,000-seat Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California for one of those Apple showcases, with the chief executive, Tim Cook, commanding the stage before a crowd of loyalists.
This time around, the focus won’t be on the next must-have device. With iPhone sales showing signs of fatigue, the event is intended to draw attention to the company’s billion-dollar-plus bet on entertainment, an initiative that will put Apple in direct competition with Netflix, Amazon and HBO.
Two years ago or so, Apple had zero shows of its own. It has now completed or is close to wrapping up at least a dozen shows, according to the newspaper, with additional shows coming down the pike and many more in the years ahead.
The event at the Apple Park campus in Cupertino is also meant to drive home—for iPhone fans and anyone in Hollywood who hasn’t been paying attention—just how many shows Apple has pulled together. Five series have completed filming.
Around a half dozen more are on the verge of wrapping production, according to several people familiar with the shows who were not authorized to speak publicly. And the number of original productions is expected to increase in 2020.
Shows that have finished shooting include “Are You Sleeping,” “Dickinson,” “For All Mankind” by sci-fi author Ronald D. Moore, M. Night Shyamalan’s untitled thriller and Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney’s unnamed comedy series.
And here are the Apple projects that have either completed filming or are nearing their wrap dates, according to the report.
- Untitled series with Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston
- “Amazing Stories,” a Steven Spielberg reboot
- “Are You Sleeping?” a mystery starring Octavia Spencer
- “For All Mankind,” a Ronald D. Moore sci-fi series
- “See,” with the “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa
- A new Shyamalan thriller
- “Little America,” from the writers of “The Big Sick”
- A comedy from the “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” duo
- “Central Park,” a cartoon musical
- “Home,” from the documentary filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer
- “Dickinson,” an Emily Dickinson comedy
But make no mistake about it, this is going to be an uphill battle as Apple faces off Netflix et al, especially given that its showcase will take place two and a half weeks before Disney is expected to preview its new streaming platform, Disney+, which will no doubt be difficult to compete with as the Mickey Mouse house owns top franchises like Marvel and Star Wars.
Apple is a relatively late arrival to streaming. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have offered original programming for several years and are now formidable presences at the Emmys.
In 2018, there were nearly 500 scripted television shows available in the United States, with Netflix spending at least $8 billion on new content. Amazon, the Walt Disney Company and Warner Media have increased their programming budgets to keep pace.
The report goes on to note that Apple’s entertainment team has not been “totally opaque,” which prompted Hollywood executives to wonder if the iPhone maker lacks a clear game plan because it’s being tight-lipped about the marketing and rollout plans.
Players expect to be kept in the loop. But many of the people working with Apple said they have received little or no information on how, exactly, their shows will be released. Or even when they will be released, other than a vague assurance of ‘later this year, probably fall.’ They also don’t have a clear idea of Apple’s marketing plans for the shows. Or what their colleagues in the newly built Apple stable are up to.
In reality, this is Apple’s standard modus operandi—the notoriously secretive Cupertino company rarely, if ever, pre-announces such massive multi-year undertakings—so Hollywood is simply going to have to get used to Apple’s secretive nature and stop whining about it.
People involved in the coming series also said that Apple executives had expressed squeamishness when it comes to the portrayal of technology in the shows—how exactly are you using that iPhone? Or that Mac laptop?
Apple was sensitive to a reputation it earned, early on, as a home for uplifting programming, with little or no room for the gritty antihero fare that has defined many critically acclaimed series over the last two decades, from ‘The Sopranos’ onward.
Executives at the company bristled when they discovered there would be scenes involving crucifixes in Mr. Shyamalan’s new thriller for the service, as The Wall Street Journal reported in September. But Apple ultimately allowed the crucifixes to remain, according to two people familiar with the series.
As we reported last week, Apple’s video-streaming service is thought to debut with a strong focus on licensed content from big name Hollywood studios. The first of a dozen or more shows are unlikely to start streaming before the fall.
According to the Times report, Apple will round out its offerings with films it has acquired recently at Sundance and the Toronto International Film Festival.