Apple TV Plus: Everything to know about Apple’s $5/month streaming service


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Apple TV Plus talent gathers with CEO Tim Cook in March in the lobby of the Steve Jobs Theater.


Art Streiber/Apple

Apple finally explained what Apple TV Plus is really all about Tuesday (well, mostly). With a reported budget of $6 billion to rope in some of Hollywood’s biggest stars and heavy hitters, Apple TV Plus is confirmed to launch Nov. 1 for $5 a month. People who buy a new Apple gadget get to watch for a year free, while everyone else qualifies for a seven-day free trial. 

Apple TV Plus, the Netflix-like subscription service featuring Apple’s original TV shows and movies, was first announced at a star-studded event in March, but the company stayed mum about the crucial details until its iPhone event Tuesday.  

Apple TV Plus will offer the ability to download originals to watch offline. It will have nine confirmed titles at launch and the company specified five others that will be added in the following months. “Most” Apple TV Plus series will premiere with three episodes available immediately, followed by one new episode weekly, Apple said. Full seasons of “some” series will be available all at once.

Apple on Tuesday released a new trailer for one of those debut originals, See, a post-apocalyptic thriller starring Jason Momoa. That follows previously released trailers for three other shows that will be available at launch: The Morning Show, a drama about a morning news broadcast starring Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell; Dickinson, a comedy about poet Emily Dickinson starring Hailee Steinfeld; and For All Mankind, a period piece from the creator of Battlestar Galactica that presents an alternative history in which Russia put the first person on the moon.

The other programs available on Apple TV Plus are confirmed to be: a series featuring Oprah Winfrey; Helpsters, a Sesame Street spinoff; a kids program called Ghostwriter; animated series Snoopy in Space; and The Elephant Queen, a movie the company acquired at the Toronto Film Festival.

Apple CEO Tim Cook isn’t playing at modesty. He heralded Apple TV Plus as “unlike anything that’s been done before” in March. Here’s what we actually know.  

What’s Apple’s TV service like? 

Apple TV Plus will be subscription streaming service to watch the company’s original series and movies exclusively. 

Like Netflix, it won’t have ads. 

Unlike Netflix, it won’t release full seasons of its shows all at once in a binge-able bunch. “Most” Apple TV Plus series will premiere three episodes followed by one new episode every week; full seasons of “some” series will drop all at the same time, though. 

Apple TV Plus will also reside inside its revamped TV app. There, Apple TV Plus will sit next to other video subscriptions such as HBO or Starz. (Just don’t expect Netflix there.) 

It will be available in more than 100 countries and will also be part of Apple’s family sharing feature, which allows you and up to five family members to share a plan. 

We still have a few big questions. We don’t know if Apple’s service will also have a library of licensed shows and movies, though this is looking unlikely. And we haven’t heard anything about whether Apple will package Apple TV Plus with other subscriptions, like Apple News Plus and Apple Music, into discounted bundle a la Disney Plus being packaged with Hulu and ESPN Plus.  

How much will it cost?

Apple TV Plus will cost $5 a month and offer a seven-day free trial. People who buy a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod Touch or Mac starting Tuesday will qualify for a free subscription for one year. Current Apple device owners aren’t grandfathered in. 

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By comparison, Disney Plus, the highly anticipated streaming service from the entertainment giant, will launch Nov. 12 for $7 a month — with a large library of movies and shows available immediately. Streaming services based on cable networks, like Showtime or HBO Now, usually range between $9 to $15 a month. Smaller, niche streaming services often are priced at about $5 or a couple bucks. 

And Netflix, the world’s biggest subscription streaming service, prices its most popular plan at $13 a month in the US; it offers other tiers at $9 and $16 monthly rates.

Free trials are the industry standard: Most streaming video services offer introductory free periods for new members. But Apple’s one-year free period for gadget owners is atypically long. But the tactic worked well for Apple Music — Apple launched its music service with an extended, six-month free trial.  

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Reese Witherspoon (left) and Jennifer Aniston revealed the name of their Apple TV Plus series, The Morning Show, at Apple’s event in March. 


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When will it launch?

Apple TV Plus will launch Nov. 1 in more than 100 countries and regions, the company said. 

The company said its originals will be subtitled or dubbed in nearly 40 languages, including closed captions for people who are hearing impaired, and Apple TV Plus series and movies will also be available with audio descriptions in eight languages.

What devices will be able to stream it?

Apple’s programming will be available on all Apple devices with the new Apple TV app. 

In addition, Apple TV Plus will presumably be available on some competitor’s devices. Apple’s TV app is available on smart TVs from Samsung, and it’s supposed to become available this year on Roku, Amazon’s Fire TV devices and smart TVs from SonyLG and Vizio. Subscribers will also be able to watch Apple TV Plus on the web at tv.apple.com.

What shows and movies will it have?

Apple’s shows run the gamut of drama, comedy, documentary — even undefined deals with a single big star attached. It’s also spending big to get top Hollywood names: Oprah WinfreySteven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams and other heavyhitters are on board. CNET keeps a tally of the more than 30 Apple shows known so far, and it has details on every program. 

At launch, Apple TV Plus is confirmed to have nine titles: 

Apple said five additional titles would be added in the months after launch: 

  • Servant, a thriller from Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan
  • Truth Be Told, a mystery drama starring Octavia Spencer and Aaron Paul
  • Little America, the brainchild of the husband-and-wife screenwriting team of Kumail Nanjiani (you may know him as Dinesh on HBO’s Silicon Valley) and Emily V. Gordon
  • The Banker, a true-story movie starring Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson
  • Hala, a movie produced by Jada Pinkett Smith that Apple picked up at Sundance

But the release plans for other Apple originals remain unclear. We still don’t know when we’ll be seeing shows like: Mythic Quest, a comedy from Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day, who created and starred in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; Amazing Stories, an anthology series from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television and NBC Universal; and Central Park, a cartoon musical from the creator of Bob’s Burgers and packed with the voices of stars such as Frozen’s Josh Gad and Kristen Bell and Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr. and Daveed Diggs.

We also don’t know much about how Apple will continue to accrue films. Apple has a partnership with film studio A24 — known for such movies as Ex Machina, Moonlight and Room. The partnership will include a film called On the Rocks starring Bill Murray and Rashida Jones and directed by Sofia Coppola. At the Toronto Film Festival last year, Apple also bought the rights to Wolfwalkers, an animated movie from Cartoon Saloon and Melusine Productions. 

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Apple has come under early scrutiny because of reports it’s restricting its creators from making edgy content and aiming to keep all its programming family friendly. Family friendly programming isn’t a liability to success — Disney built one of the reigning media empires on it — but edgy shows have led other streaming services to awards recognition that’s frequently used as a barometer for a service’s success. Apple’s strategy could crimp it competitively on that front.

But that won’t stop Apple from trying to score awards, apparently. The company is hiring strategists to help craft campaigns for awards like the Oscars and Emmys, according to a report. 

Who will Apple compete against for your dollars? 

Apple’s forthcoming service would launch at a time when seemingly every major media property is putting out its own streaming option, from DC Universe’s comic-flavored fare to a planned Disney offering, not to mention stalwarts like Netflix. Meanwhile, NBCUniversal and HBO-owner WarnerMedia are both building their own streaming services

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Brie Larson (left) will star in an Apple drama series, but she’s also working with Netflix, where her directorial debut Unicorn Store is streaming. 


Netflix

Clearly, an Apple service with $6 billion worth of premium video will compete with the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and others that stream on-demand, high-quality productions. 

Should Apple expand to bundling other digital networks, then Amazon Channels will be its key rival. Apple would also go up against wireless companies such as AT&T’s VRV, a co-op of niche genre streaming services. 

A channel-bundling model would even bring Apple in competition with traditional cable. 

What’s interesting is that Apple’s dive into original programming comes as other giants are ramping up their own streaming-service ambitions. 

Disney will launch a $7-a-month Netflix-like service Nov. 12. Called Disney Plus, the digital service will be a home base for streaming all of Disney’s blockbuster movies, multiple Star Wars and Marvel original series and other programming. Compared with Apple’s nine titles at launch, Disney Plus will have at least 300 movies to stream plus thousands of TV episodes. 

Apple is a gadget giant. Why does it want to become Netflix? 

Haven’t you heard? Everybody wants to be the Netflix of something. (Podcasts! Fitness! Clothes! Games! Even demand management.)

Apple is taking aim at original video because it could be a crucial enticement for people to buy more iPhones and other gadgets. You can’t overstate the importance of the iPhone to Apple. The phone, one of the most popular in the world, still accounts for more than half its sales and was critical to Apple’s march to become the first US company worth $1 trillion

But Apple is on a deadline to double its services revenue to $50 billion before 2021. 

Apple quickly established its bona fides in subscriptions businesses with Apple Music. But the content on Apple Music is essentially the same as every other music service. They all have tens of millions of songs. Apple Music has been successful largely because of its presence on the iPhone, already in the pockets of millions of people. It hasn’t been nearly as successful working the other direction, acting as a lure to buy the latest Apple gadget.  

Original video from big-name stars and creators you can’t watch anywhere else, however, could be different. 

Apple clearly has a hunch it will be.

Originally published Sept. 8, 2018, and updated as new information is revealed.

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