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How Will Apple TV+ Shake Up Netflix? Analysts Are Split

Is Apple’s star-fueled streaming service a “Netflix killer” — or just another incremental challenger chasing the market leader? Wall Street analysts don’t agree on whether Apple TV+ will put a big dent in Netflix’s subscriber momentum with the debut of its premium subscription VOD service later this year.

At its splashy unveiling Monday, Apple trotted out a host of Hollywood boldface-name partners, including Oprah, Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Steve Carell, J.J. Abrams and Sesame Street’s Big Bird, who talked about their projects for the forthcoming streaming service.

A big challenge in assessing the impact of Apple TV+ is that the company left key questions unanswered: namely, what it cost and what exactly is going to be in the package. At the event, it screened only a 90-second supercut of the original shows it’s ordered to date. The streaming service is slated to debut in the fall of 2019 in over 100 countries.

Some expect a seismic jolt. “Apple Poisons Netflix” was the title of the research note by Needham & Co. analyst Laura Martin, pointing to Apple’s estimated $2 billion content budget for original entertainment, its high-wattage creative partners and strong brand.

Netflix “has an inferior competitive position to [Apple] over time, as we see it, in both: a) customer acquisition costs; and b) content costs,” Martin argued in her analysis. Apple has “zero consumer acquisition costs,” assuming it will first target its captive 900 million global user base, she wrote. Meanwhile, Apple’s content costs will be offset by the revenue share of subscriptions it will sell through the Apple TV Channels storefront for HBO, Showtime, Starz and others.

Moreover, Apple has the ability to bundle together TV, games, news, and music subscriptions with new iPhone sales, Martin continued. Assuming the tech company prices its three new services (TV, games and news) at $10 per month each and it gets 10% of its installed base to subscribe to each one, that would add $32 billion in new revenue annually (nearly double Apple’s 2018 total services revenue). In turn, that would fund two to three times more content than Netflix — and Netflix, Martin noted, has been forced to borrow billions of dollars to fund its content spending.

With Apple Music, Apple Arcade (its new game-subscription service) and Apple TV+, the company “will be able to cross-sell and integrate best practices of all 3 into a new innovative service never done before,” Martin wrote.

But Apple’s plans to dive into the streaming space — and the talent it has been working with — were not exactly state secrets. The Cupertino “magic factory” has been plugging away for the last two years to assemble its programming slate under the direction of ex-Sony TV executives Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg.

Other analysts think Apple TV+, whatever it ends up looking like at launch, will have a minimal impact in slowing Netflix’s roll.

Raymond James analyst Justin Patterson doesn’t believe Apple’s streaming service will have a major negative effect on Netflix (nor, for that matter, will Disney+, the forthcoming subscription VOD service from the Mouse House). Netflix already competes with a slew of rivals, including HBO, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.

“Similar offerings already exist, suggesting [the Apple TV+] service is more incremental than revolutionary,” Patterson wrote in a note. “We believe Apple’s and Disney’s launches will not adversely affect Netflix’s competitive position.” The analyst reiterated a “strong buy” rating on Netflix and a 12-month price target on the stock of $470.

Apple has a massive footprint of users, but a question about its SVOD ambitions is whether it will have the volume of content win Apple TV+ subscribers, according to Morgan Stanley’s Ben Swinburne.

“Does Apple have the appetite to spend its way to success?” Swinburne wondered in a research note Tuesday. He maintained that Netflix is well positioned for the battle: “Netflix’s risk appetite, singular focus and ability to bring the best of Silicon Valley to the best of Hollywood is still perhaps underestimated by the market.”

Apple is offering the SVOD service through its redesigned Apple TV app. In a departure from its past strategy of tying hardware, software and services into one (closed) vertical stack, Apple is planning to launch the new Apple TV app this spring Samsung smart TVs and on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, LG, Sony and Vizio platforms at some point in the future.

In any case, Apple’s subscription VOD service certainly stands to be a credible contender in the fight for the share of consumers’ entertainment dollars — which, of course, isn’t unlimited. In 2018, the average U.S. consumer subscribed to three video streaming services, according to research from Deloitte, and increasingly they’re frustrated by “subscription fatigue” in which they have to cobble together multiple services to get what they want to watch.

Apple is playing a long game with the so-called “Netflix Killer” and has the opportunity to capture 100 million consumers for Apple TV+ over the next three to five years, according to Wedbush Securities managing director of equity research Daniel Ives.

Apple TV+ “takes direct aim at [Reed] Hastings and Netflix over the coming years,” Ives wrote in a note. “We believe Apple’s goal here is to be a major distribution platform for content and with 1.4 billion active iOS devices worldwide, with the theme of family and safer viewing platform, Cupertino is trying to differentiate itself vs. competitors and flex its Apple brand muscles to get more consumers on this ‘trustworthy’ platform.” The analyst maintained his “outperform” rating on Apple’s stock.

Another question about Apple’s strategy is why it unveiled Apple TV+ some six months before it is scheduled to become available — a “sneak peek,” CEO Tim Cook called it, while others likened the parade of Hollywood celebs to a TV upfront presentation. It could be that Apple expected the SVOD service to be ready to go in the spring of 2019. Or perhaps the company simply wants to build buzz for its originals leading up to the launch.

For now, Netflix investors don’t seem overly spooked about Apple’s entrée on its turf.

Netflix’s stock closed up 1.4% on Monday, to $366.23 per share, after Apple’s announcement, while it was down around 1.1% in morning trading Tuesday. Apple shares closed down 1.2% Monday — as investors were likely looking for a bigger bang from the much-hyped event — but were up 1.7% in Tuesday trading.

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