Apple TV+ was this week judged “below average” for both value and original programming by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. It has now been over half a year since its launch, so the question is – why has this new streaming service failed to gain traction?
While Apple TV+ is cheaper than Netflix at just £4.99 every month, and has star-studded original programming, it is clearly dwarfed by any of its rival services, both in terms of quality and quantity. The streaming service feels like an afterthought; the product of a decision to compete in an already saturated market, without compelling content, or any clear direction.
The company’s confidence is often justified, but the belief that only programming under their creative direction can surpass the offerings of rival companies seems somewhat misplaced
Apple is well known for studying the market as rivals iterate, before eventually releasing the best possible version of a feature or product. However, while Apple’s walled garden of hardware and software works has served them well for their physical products, this strategy seems to be futile when it comes to art. The company’s confidence is often justified, but the belief that only programming under their creative direction can surpass the offerings of rival companies seems somewhat misplaced. For example, despite the obvious success of the sitcom Friends, Apple refused the opportunity to buy the rights to it. Instead, they favoured their own exclusive content.
Virtually all Apple TV+ originals look generic, bland, and unappealing. The programming feels forced and unimaginative, as though the concept for each show was scraped from the bottom of the barrel once its competitors had taken the better ideas. Apple has also tried to impose a clear sense of tone for almost all programming on the platform; one of socially liberal and optimistic hope, not dissimilar to what one may expect of Disney.
While Apple TV+ may appeal to those who regard vanilla as their favourite flavour of ice-cream, for the masses it is extraordinarily flavourless and vapid
Yet without the family appeal or popular titles that Disney+ has to offer, Apple TV+ feels sanctimonious and hubristic in tone. In the same vein, all shows feel highly Americanised, with a heavy gloss of excessively – cheerful Americana. Curiously, the first of their British productions, Trying, feels much the same, as though British actors are delivering an American script. It is therefore hard to associate Apple TV+ with elements of realism and originality when its programming is self-congratulatory and predictable.
In some respects, it is unsurprising that the selection of series is so palpably bland. Each show almost looks like an amalgam of existing pop-culture paraphernalia. See appears to be a generic future-fantasy show, a cross between, The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones. Similarly, The Morning Show, comes across as an equally unremarkable lunchtime American drama. Even M. Night Shyamalan’s Servant, has the appearance of a generic thriller with dark lighting and a creepy doll. While Apple TV+ may appeal to those who regard vanilla as their favourite flavour of ice-cream, for the masses it is extraordinarily flavourless and vapid. It seems that Apple has been far too overconfident and taken few risks as a result.
Compared to the first offerings of Netflix and Prime Video which included House of Cards and The Man in the High Castle respectively, it is even more clear that Apple TV+ failed to launch with anything equally as compelling. Apple TV+ began life with eight series: an Emily Dickinson biopic Dickinson; Sesame Street spin-off Helpsters, NASA drama For All Mankind, Oprah’s Book Club, documentary The Elephant Queen, teen fantasy Ghostwriter, cartoon Snoopy in Space, Jason Momoa epic See, and drama The Morning Show.
It is virtually impossible to recommend the service based on any individual shows. Though few have been critically panned and there are no standout failures, they have all fallen into the unremarkable territory of a critic’s two or three stars. None have given the platform the momentum it needed to reach mainstream appeal. Due to its programming, there isn’t anything about Apple TV+ which makes its subscription a necessary purchase, especially when other platforms have roaring successes including The Mandalorian, Stranger Things, or The Handmaid’s Tale to offer.
Though few have been critically panned and there are no standout failures, they have all fallen into the unremarkable territory of a critic’s two or three stars
With no back-catalog of content, the only entertainment on the platform is that which Apple makes itself. This means there is barely enough content on Apple TV+ to last a few weeks of viewing, although most viewers will have switched off long before then out of boredom. Further condemning Apple TV+, was the launch of Disney+ just a fortnight later. In contrast, its impressive portfolio of classic movies by Pixar, Star Wars, National Geographic, and Marvel has rendered Apple’s meagre offerings even more obviously lackluster.
Six months after launch, Disney+ had 54.5 million subscribers worldwide. Apple has not officially released subscriber numbers and has many non-paying customers using a free trial. Analysts have estimated the number of subscribers to be around 10 million, almost all of which are using the year-long free trial. However, once that free trial ends, subscriptions may well plummet. In contrast, Netflix remains the largest streaming service by far, with about 183 million subscribers worldwide. The poor performance of Apple TV+ is an embarrassing reflection of the unappealing content it is offering. Clearly realising this, Apple has backtracked and recently begun efforts to license older TV and movie content from other media companies to build a back catalogue. This evidently is a desperate attempt to become relevant enough to compete with the huge rival libraries of Netflix, Prime Video and Disney+.
The poor performance of Apple TV+ is an embarrassing reflection of the unappealing content it is offering
There is not much right with Apple TV+, and it currently doesn’t have the chops to replace any other subscription service currently on the market. For those that do retain their subscription, it will probably be a secondary or tertiary service. Its star-studded, high budget but forgettable and bland dramas have done nothing to improve the platform and at present, there is no compelling reason to subscribe to Apple TV+. With no recognisable titles, the service may well be destined to linger in obscurity.
Ultimately, Apple is more than wealthy enough to keep the service afloat even if nobody is watching. While we may one-day see a hit series from the streaming service, they may instead simply acquire one from elsewhere. Nonetheless, it is clear that Apple TV+ has been a failure thus far, and still has a long way to go.