Apple, taking on Netflix, shows off Apple TV+ video service

Apple, taking on Netflix, shows off Apple TV+ video service
An actor dressed as Sesame Street character "Big Bird" speaks with a puppet named "Cody" during an Apple Inc. event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California, on Monday. The company is unveiling streaming video and news subscriptions, key parts of Apple's push to transform itself into a leading digital services provider. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Apple Inc. unveiled its next take on TV, challenging Netflix Inc. in the competitive video streaming market.

At a star-studded event in Cupertino, California, on Monday, the technology giant unveiled an original content service called Apple TV+, a revamped TV app and an Apple TV channels service for tapping into outside providers including HBO, Showtime and Starz.

Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, who run Apple’s original video programming, introduced the TV+ service by playing video featuring Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard. Then, a slew of big name celebrities working on movies and TV shows for Apple discussed their projects.

Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Jason Momoa, Alfre Woodard, J.J. Abrams, Sara Bareilles, Kumail Nanjiani and Steve Carell talked about their upcoming work.

Apple said pricing and availability for the TV+ service will be announced later this year. Netflix charges $8.99 to $15.99 a month in the U.S. Apple’s offering will stream in more than 100 countries and launch in the fall. It won’t have advertising.

Apple didn’t unveil a bundle of multiple subscriptions at the event – something analysts and investors were watching for. The shares fell 1.9 percent, while Netflix rose 1.2 percent.

Peter Stern, Apple’s vice president of services, showcased the new Apple TV app which is redesigned with a Watch Now tab that suggests content to watch. The key new element is a new Apple Channels service, which lets users tap into content from HBO, Epix, Starz and Showtime. The redesigned TV app also includes sections for sports and kids programs, the company showed.

The new Apple TV app will be available on all of Apple’s major devices in May, except for the Mac, which will add the service in the fall. It will be available on smart TVs from Samsung Electronics Co., Sony Corp., Vizio Inc. and LG Electronics Inc. The app will also make its way to the Amazon Fire TV set-top-box and devices from Roku Inc.

While Apple is late to the video streaming market, it has at least 1.4 billion active devices out there, giving it a huge potential audience. The company will push the service via its existing TV app on iPhones, iPads and Apple TV set-top-boxes. Oprah cited that opportunity Monday at the event.

Apple is embracing services to boost revenue as the company’s three big hardware markets – smartphones, personal computers and tablets – stagnate.

Netflix’s transformation from a DVD-by-mail service into one of Hollywood’s largest studios has convinced many technology companies that they, too, can make hit TV shows. Amazon now spends an estimated $5 billion on programming each year, while Facebook Inc. and Snap Inc. are funding shows on a smaller scale.

In a sign of how competitive the market is, YouTube has canceled plans for high-end dramas and comedies. Netflix already has more than 139 million customers, while Hulu and Amazon.com Inc. have tens of millions. Walt Disney Co., AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. are about to sell video services of their own as well and already own large studios that pump out new TV shows and movies.

But Apple has a leg up on many rivals because customers are used to consuming digital content through the company’s devices. The iTunes store has been one of the largest online sellers of TV shows, movies and music for years, while the company’s Apple Music service has 50 million subscribers.

Erlicht and Van Amburg, who Apple hired from Sony Corp. to oversee its Los Angeles-based studio in 2017, have spent billions of dollars to acquire projects. Other tech companies like Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo have announced grand plans to produce TV shows and movies, only to retreat within a couple of years.

Apple News+

Apple also presented its long-anticipated magazine subscription service on Monday, bundling access to selected glossy titles, websites and newspapers for $10 a month.

The new service, called Apple News+, will be incorporated into the existing Apple News app that comes pre-installed on iPhones, iPads and Macs, said Roger Rosner, vice president of applications.

More than 300 magazines will be part of the service, he said. It will also include The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, but not The Washington Post or The New York Times. Bloomberg Businessweek will be part of the magazine section. A demonstration showed that some magazines, like National Geographic, have dynamic, moving covers.

The service launches today for $9.99 a month, with the first month free. It will be available in the U.S. and Canada, with the U.K. and Australia coming later in the year.

The News+ service will be its own tab in the existing News app and won’t interrupt the free section, the demo showed. Magazines can be downloaded automatically for offline reading. The News+ tab features access to magazine cover stories, new issues and individual articles. Magazine creators are tweaking their issues depending on whether the story is read on an iPhone or the bigger iPad screen.

Apple Arcade

Apple added gaming to its suite of new video, news and credit card services, introducing the subscription program just days after Google unveiled a cloud-based gaming plan.

The service, called Apple Arcade, will be integrated into the App Store and will include more than 100 games exclusive to the service and Apple’s platform. The games will synchronize across iPhones, iPads, Mac computers and Apple TVs, and will work offline, the company said Monday. The service won’t launch until the fall and the company said it will disclose pricing at a later date.

Stocks of gaming companies including Activision Blizzard Inc. dropped on the announcement of Apple’s entry into the $180 billion industry. The iPhone maker said it will back development costs of some games and “would work closely with creators.” The service will have no advertising, Apple said.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google last week announced its Stadia game-streaming service to let players access the action through the web instead of having to buy expensive consoles or personal computers.

 

(Contact the reporters at [email protected] and [email protected].)

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