“Jamie and Zack are two of the most talented TV executives in the world and have been instrumental in making this the golden age of television,” Cue said in a statement. “We have exciting plans in store for customers and can’t wait for them to bring their expertise to Apple — there is much more to come.”
After years of rumblings that Apple was combing Hollywood to find someone to steer its content strategy, the hires signal what the company was already making apparent in recent months as its first original series emerged from development: the Cupertino, Calif.-based colossus is serious about expanding its entertainment efforts. Unscripted series “Planet of the Apps” premiered earlier this month, and a second show, “Carpool Karaoke,” is expected to launch in August.
Talks between Cue, Van Amburg and Erlicht heated up in recent months. Both men’s contracts expire in August; their departure from Sony was reported Thursday. The exit opens up a top spot at a division of Sony that drives the majority of profits at the studio, which recently named a new CEO came under the oversight of new CEO Tony Vinciquerra.
Apple reps declined to delineate what exactly Van Amburg and Erlicht will be doing, but the best bet is they will continue to crank out more original programming for Apple Music, though their efforts won’t be contained to the subscription service. The pair, who have been together at Sony TV since 2005, have shepherded more than a few hits all over the TV landscape, such as NBC’s “The Blacklist,” ABC’s “The Goldbergs,” AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” and Netflix’s “The Crown.”
But there are plenty of questions that remain as to what they’ll do with original content, some answers to which Apple may know and isn’t yet saying and others they’ll look to their new hires for their vision. Will Apple Music, which reached 27 million subscribers earlier this month, be the sole distribution point, or will iTunes and perhaps services that have yet to even launch get attention from Van Amburg and Erlicht? Many have anticipated Apple could provide a more direct challenge to Netflix, for instance, with its own subscription VOD service.
Apple’s new content chiefs could conceivably push beyond their core competency in TV to original films; they may also be in position to produce content that ends up outside Apple either for its entire run or after a brief window within the company’s massive global ecosystem. Having someone who can sort through those challenges is likely a big part of what attracted Cue to Van Amburg and Erlicht, who played an instrumental role in fueling the emergence of myriad cable networks and streaming services by often being the first studio to hammer out deal terms with entities new to premium programming.
They could partner with existing studios to bring in series or set up their own studio–perhaps even acquire an existing studio. The possibilities are endless, and will no doubt be one of Hollywood’s next big guessing games. There may also be more key hires to come as Van Amburg and Erlicht staff up.
Also unclear is whether their aegis extends to Apple’s on-again, off-again dalliances with TV programmers about licensing linear channels for a long-anticipated bundle, which could compete in a now crowded market of pay-TV alternatives from Google, AT&T and Sony.
“It will be an honor to be part of the Apple team,” said Erlicht in a statement. “We want to bring to video what Apple has been so successful with in their other services and consumer products — unparalleled quality.”
“Apple has a relentless focus on delighting customers with their products,” said Van Amburg in a statement. “We will bring that same intention to Apple’s programming and we could not be more excited about what lies ahead.”
With Van Amburg and Erlicht in tow, Apple is escalating an arms race for content in the tech sector that has been overdrive in recent days: Facebook has begun making its first series orders, and up-and-coming social platform Musical.ly struck its first set of deals with TV networks to produce short-form originals. The success of Netflix and Amazon in original content has woken up all of Silicon Valley to the possibilities of programming.
Van Amburg and Erlicht, who spent more than 15 years at Sony, will work out of Apple offices in Los Angeles.