Apple, which helped revolutionize the digital distribution of music with iTunes, is a relatively late entrant into the digital video-on-demand space. But its foray had been a long time in the making. “There has always been a fascination at the company with movie and TV content,” says Tim Bajarin, president of marketing research consultancy Creative Strategies, who has covered Apple since 1981. “We know that Steve Jobs was very supportive of it. In 2010 when the iPad launched, he talked about watching movies on it and how it was going to revolutionize Hollywood.”
For the past several years, Apple bigwigs Eddy Cue and Jimmy Iovine met with top TV executives, but nothing ever came out of that. While people in the industry had already started to think that Apple might opt not to become an original digital programming player itself but instead buy one (Apple is one of only a couple of companies rich enough to consider acquiring Netflix), the tech giant last June hired Sony Pictures Television’s Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg as heads of worldwide video programming.
For Erlicht and Van Amburg, this was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. So, after lengthy tenures, they opted to depart Sony TV and leave traditional media behind in order to lead Apple’s effort to shake up the SVOD world.
Nine months after they started at Apple, the duo is yet to publicly speak of their plans. Apple, too, has been mum, not even revealing the platform that will carry its original scripted series. According to reports, Apple had earmarked $1 billion for original programming, looking to launch up to 10 shows in the first year.
While the network has not officially commented, Erlicht and Van Amburg’s moves over the past nine months have been indicative of big ambitions. After assembling a team of top TV executives, the pair have aggressively gone after the hot packages on the market, landing a slew of high-profile scripted shows. That includes seven with straight-to-series orders at press time: a morning show drama exec-produced by and starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, with a two-season pickup; an Amazing Stories reboot from Steven Spielberg; a Ronald D. Moore space drama; a Damien Chazelle series; a comedy starring Kristen Wiig; the world-building drama See from Steven Knight and Francis Lawrence; and a psychological thriller from M. Night Shyamalan. More series orders are pending, with other projects in development. The rapid expansion has not been without growing pains—the first two series ordered by Apple, the morning show drama and Amazing Stories, both underwent showrunner changes.
With vast resources, Apple has already dramatically changed the premium marketplace as a major buyer; we’ll see if that will translate to a lion’s share of streaming viewership. Bajarin cautions that “content is the biggest stretch the company is making.” Still, size matters. “This is a company with nearly a trillion-dollar market cap and $163 billion in the bank,” he says. “At any given point, they could do something as radical as buying Netflix or buying a movie or TV studio and changing the entire landscape.”
–Additional reporting by Dade Hayes