This week, news emerged that Apple was in the early stages of discussing a streaming subscription bundle with music labels. according to the Financial Times. The plan would be to create a single monthly price for both Apple Music and Apple TV+, the company’s video streaming service that is scheduled to launch on November 1.
Not all music labels are comfortable with the idea, however, and are concerned that any discounts offered by Apple could end up hurting the labels’ revenues from the streaming music side of the business. Nonetheless, a bundled approach to service subscriptions is not only logical, but it could also give Apple an enormous advantage as competition for consumers’ entertainment budgets intensifies among tech and media giants.
Apple has spent the last several years building a portfolio of services including Apple Music, Apple News+, Apple Arcade, and Apple TV+. Though each of these products on their own isn’t necessarily better than the competition, together they could create a compelling entertainment package that hits the Apple brand’s sweet spot of quality paired with convenience.
An Apple-centric media bundle would prove difficult for its competitors to match. You can already bundle Spotify Premium with Hulu, and Disney has announced that there will be bundled savings for those who sign up for Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+. But Disney lacks a gaming service and it will have less room to play with pricing on the music front since it doesn’t own Spotify.
Netflix, still the 800-pound gorilla in the video streaming space, doesn’t operate any other media services and has historically relied on service providers like Comcast for any customers acquired through bundling.
Google is theoretically in a position to make its own mega-media bundle. It has Google Play Music (soon to be discontinued in favor of YouTube Music), YouTube TV, and its newly announced Stadia gaming subscription service. But Google’s services have always felt somewhat disjointed, each operating in its own space, without much cohesiveness. Despite its efforts with YouTube Originals, Google’s on-demand video catalog is severely lacking.
Amazon looks to be best positioned to offer a competing bundle of services to an Apple mega-bundle. It already runs music and video streaming services and both have been steadily growing. It owns its own game studio, its Kindle ebook business has continued to thrive even as others in the space have struggled. Let’s not forget, it’s a major hardware and voice assistant player too. Perhaps Amazon’s greatest strength is its proven appetite for offering products and services at lower prices than everyone else, even if it means doing so at a loss.
So what might an Apple media bundle cost? Apple Music is currently $10 per month. Apple TV+ will be $5 per month when it launches. Apple Arcade is another $5 per month, and Apple News+ is $10. Without getting into things like family plans, that puts the current Apple services total at $30 per month. Clearly there would need to be a discount to make this more attractive that signing up for each product individually, but how much of a discount would it take?
Apple TV+ is the only one of Apple’s media services to which the company can claim 100% ownership of the content. It’s no coincidence that Apple has offered a year’s worth of Apple TV+ to new buyers of most Apple devices. Unlike Apple Music, there’s presumably no payout to third parties regardless of how many times people stream shows on Apple TV+.
If we assume Apple would be willing to keep eating that $5 per month cost to get a guaranteed revenue stream, that bundle price drops to $25. Despite the limited amount of content that will be on Apple TV+ at launch, this is starting to look like a decent value.
But Apple does more than media. Many of its customers pay for iCloud’s additional storage. 2TB costs $10 per month. What if Apple threw in 1TB of iCloud storage in for that $25 per month price?
If you’re hemming and hawing, you’re not alone — going all-in with one company for all of these services is a big step. And yet, we’ve only just glimpsed what Apple has in store for consumers, especially when it comes to streaming video. The Apple TV app may not be quite what Steve Jobs had in mind when he famously told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that he’d cracked the code on TV, but it’s got enormous potential now that it has escaped the bounds of the Apple TV streaming device.
Apple’s ability to pull off such an all-encompassing strategy will depend on gaining music labels’ blessings, which at the moment seems in doubt. But betting against Apple is rarely a winning strategy, and the company has a long history of getting the music industry to see things from Apple’s perspective.
If Apple succeeds and creates a media mega-bundle, you can be sure Amazon and Google will follow suit. If and when that happens, it will be the start of a new era in the streaming wars. Will consumers end up the winners in such a competitive landscape? We’ll have to wait and see.