Like many companies, Apple has been trying to disrupt the traditional television sector for years. But like countless companies before it, Apple has repeatedly run face-first into a cable and broadcast industry that’s aggressively resistant to actual change. As a result, Apple’s efforts to launch a TV service have been comically delayed for years as cable and broadcast companies (worried that what Apple did to the music industry would also happen to the TV sector) tightly restricted how their content could be used if the approach varies too far from accepted industry norms.
So despite Steve Jobs insisting that Apple had “cracked the code” on a next-gen TV set as early as 2011 — and efforts to strike licensing deals that have been ongoing since at least 2012 — nothing much has really come from Apple’s promised revolution on the television front.
In the years since, numerous streaming providers (Dish’s Sling TV, AT&T’s DirecTV Now, Sony’s Playstation Vue) have jumped into the sector, and Apple is definitely a late arrival. As such, the looming TV service Apple appears poised to launch seems to be very much a derivative offering that isn’t likely to disrupt the sector all that much. A report in the Wall Street Journal (paywall, see Gizmodo’s alt. take) notes that Apple has set aside $ 1 billion for original programming, but Tim Cook’s fears that the service could tarnish Apple’s pure brand image appear to be causing some notable problems.
The report noted how at least one project fled to Amazon after Apple tried to tightly restrict the show’s political commentary. And the kind of comically inconsistent restrictions that tend to plague Apple’s app store appear to have made their way to the company’s looming TV service, including a ban on, of all things, crosses:
“Apple signed a deal for a series made by M. Night Shyamalan about a couple who lose a young child.
Before saying yes to that psychological thriller, Apple executives had a request: Please eliminate the crucifixes in the couple’s house, said people working on the project. They said executives made clear they didn’t want shows that venture into religious subjects or politics. Mr. Shyamalan wasn’t available for comment.
Of course that’s the exact opposite tack taken by streaming providers like Netflix or Amazon, which have increasingly turned to original, more edgy fare to help set themselves apart from the traditional networks. As a long list of recent awards make pretty clear, that approach is certainly working out ok. Given Apple’s more cautious approach, some employees have taken to making fun of the looming service:
“One agent said some members of Apple’s team in Los Angeles began calling themselves “expensive NBC.”
Of course this being Apple, it’s entirely possible that nobody cares that Apple’s original content lineup lacks any rough edges, and fans are likely to line up and buy the product anyway. It’s also certainly possible to create a high-quality platform with largely G-rated fare. That said, this sounds nothing like the TV revolution Apple has promised for the better part of the last decade, and too much interference with the creative process isn’t likely to help keep talent around as Apple’s never-ending quest to upend the TV apple cart stumbles forward.
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