We've had a few weeks to digest what Apple showcased at its big Silicon Valley presentation. As everyone in both the technology and television universes await more details on the assortment of services the company will debut this fall, led by Apple TV+, what are the key takeaways here? Equally important, what should Apple do between now and launch to give these services their best chance to win over the American public, followed by the world at large?
Let's go first to the takeaways:
A newfound respect for Apple TV -- a TV-connected device used by millions of people with more than 10,000 applications. This event was the first time in more than a year that Apple management, led by Chief Executive Tim Cook, gave Apple TV any time of day in public. At recent events of this magnitude, including one last fall at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Apple devoted loads of time to new applications and features for the iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch and no time whatsoever to Apple TV. With this presentation, Apple not only put Apple TV as a device front and center but suggested it will be as important to the company's future success as the other elements of its hardware ecosystem.
Two hardware ecosystems, not one, will be critical to how Apple TV+ and the other services on display make out. For Apple TV+, Apple Arcade (the new interactive game venture) and the Apple TV app bundle, Cook and colleagues consistently noted that, in addition to Apple TV, they will be distributed through other TV-connected devices, as well as smart TV sets, with Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Samsung in from the start. Deals with LG, Sony and Vizio are in play. Advice to the crafters of Apple News+: Make sure your service takes the same smart TV/device distribution course.
Apple Arcade, together with Google's unveiling of Stadia one week earlier, leaves no doubt that interactive, possibly multi-player, games are on their way to becoming a principal feature of this smart TV/device environment. Both allow consumers to play a variety of games (more than 100 a month via Apple Arcade) on their TVs with a controller instead of an expensive console. With more smart sets and devices equipped with artificial intelligence-driven features (Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, etc.), viewers may find all it takes to play and enjoy these games will be their voices. Watch how other companies in the videogame arena -- Microsoft and EA in particular -- react to Apple Arcade by offering their own smart TV set/device-distributed services.
Apple TV+ comes off as an original programming player with a social consciousness, willing to spend above and beyond to pull their vision off. "This service is dedicated to the best stories ever told," Cook declared when introducing this venture's section of the presentation. With top talent including Steven Spielberg, Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey and J.J. Abrams on that stage, the one moment that caught my attention was a backdrop, listing more than 50 on and off-camera (mostly off) notables who signed to contribute original series. No wonder analysts were forecasting afterward that Apple has at least $2 billion earmarked for its first batch of originals -- double the amount originally announced -- and may put at least $8 billion more in play over the next year or two. As MediaVillage columnist Jeff Minsky elaborated in his recent two-part reaction to Apple's event, "Apple Just Launched a Social Movement," many of these series will differentiate from what Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. serve up by stressing diversity, improving society and generating a culture of civility and understanding. One of my favorite moments was watching Kumail Nanjiani describe Little America, his anthology series dramatizing the desire of legal immigrants to obtain their unique place in the American landscape. Nanjiani also served as an example of Apple TV+'s willingness to showcase promising new series creators alongside superstar producers like Spielberg.
Between Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade, Arcade came off best at the event because we received the full picture of what the new platform can do. Prospective games were demonstrated, creators left the audience excited about what they wanted to do, and key details were released. Despite the star wattage, though, the Apple TV+ presentation was, in show-and-tell terms, a case of too much tell and nowhere near enough show. Couldn't Spielberg offer several minutes from the original NBC run of Amazing Stories (1985-87) to whet appetites for his Apple reboot? Why didn't anyone prep a trailer from Witherspoon's The Morning Show? At least Sara Bareilles (working with Abrams on Little Voice, a musical dramedy based on her career) gave a lovely solo piano rendition of Voice's theme song. I see an Emmy nomination in that song's future.
As for what Apple should do on Apple TV+'s behalf from this moment forward, start with what should have happened immediately after this event. Issue a press release detailing all the original series in production, all the series greenlit for production over the next six months and all the original series (and movies via independent studio, A24) that are in development. From there, stage full-day events in New York and Los Angeles in the manner of the Television Critics Association's twice-yearly press tours. Invite the press to question and network with Cook; Apple TV overseer, Eddy Cue; Apple TV+ programming gurus, Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, and creators/cast members from as many series as possible. Bring along Apple TV app developers and Arcade game makers to demo their new projects.
Engage a similar event strategy with The Paley Center for Media, using their spaces in New York and Los Angeles. Give consumers sneak previews of Apple TV+ programming, Apple Arcade games and Apple TV apps with pre-show red carpet ceremonies and post-show panel discussions. One more thing (a la Cook's favorite wrap-up phrase): show up at upcoming TV festivals like SeriesFest in Denver, ATX in Austin and the New York TV Festival. All of this will make a difference.
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