Apple came to the streaming wars last November with the strong advantage of its massive iOS footprint, which it used to distribute one year of Apple TV+ free to consumers who purchased products like iPhones and iPads last November.
But with the company indicating last week its intent to extend those yearlong free trials until February of 2021, you have to wonder whether it’s a bad sign Apple TV+ can’t stand on its own at this point.
Nevertheless, this extension is a smart move for Apple as it aims to maximize the number of eyeballs that land on its quietly growing catalog that finally looks to be becoming known among consumers for more than just its debut hit, “The Morning Show.”
Apple doesn’t release figures on show performance, but data provided exclusively to Variety Intelligence Platform by 7Park Data shows that “The Morning Show” has been a consistent top performer for Apple TV+, in terms of monthly time spent among its panel members.
And while that show was still a top performer in September, Apple’s recently released comedy “Ted Lasso” appears to be embraced among Apple TV+ viewers since launching in mid-August.
It was the second most-watched Apple show among 7Park viewers in September, accounting for over 23% of panel viewers’ time with Apple TV+ in the month. Keep in mind that the second most-watched Apple show among panel viewers in July, before “Ted Lasso” launched, only nabbed a 7% share of 7Park data panel viewer time spent with Apple TV+ during the month.
Click here for more on 7Park Data’s measurement methodology.
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With another hit appearing to take off, it’s wise of Apple TV+ to give free trial recipients a longer timeframe to view its catalog. That could drive those consumers to view “Ted Lasso” and even other recently launched other Apple TV+ shows like “Tehran” they didn’t know about. In a best-case scenario, some of these consumers would elect to pay for an Apple TV+ subscription once their free trial ends in February.
It’s also smart for Apple to extend the accessibility of Apple TV+ as its prestige film slate is quietly being built up. Apple TV+ did recently release Tom Hanks starrer “Greyhound” and documentary “Boys State,” both of which seemed to receive generally positive reviews from critics. Some consider “Boys State” Apple’s likeliest Oscar contender at the moment.
A notable Apple film expected in early 2021 is “Cherry,” which co-director Joe Russo has deemed as having an Oscar-worthy performance by its star, Tom Holland.
Similar to its goal for its TV shows, Apple is aiming to keep its SVOD more open as its prestige films roll-out to increase the opportunities for eyeballs to land on them. That could lead to more awards chatter for Apple originals, and maybe even some subscriptions from users when their free trials end.
Boosting subscriptions should be a focus for Apple TV+, as it currently may not be adopted by as many consumers as Apple, which doesn’t publicly disclose its numbers, had planned for.
That’s what’s suggested by metrics provided to Variety Intelligence Platform by Ampere Analysis, which estimates that Apple TV+ had 14.2 million customers in the U.S. as of Q3 2020. That’s lower than the customer totals Ampere estimated of the three other major SVODs launching within the last year — Disney+, HBO Max and Peacock — in the region during Q3.
Ampere’s estimates include those who directly subscribe to a service or gain access to a service as part their subscription to another service or associated channels — that would include Comcast pay-TV customers who get ad-supported Premium Peacock at no extra cost, or AT&T mobile customers who get HBO Max as part of their mobile plan, for example.
The Apple TV+ estimate from Ampere includes consumers who got a free yearlong trial with their Apple device purchase, but only yearlong free trial recipients who have used Apple TV+ are counted.
Ampere’s estimates don’t imply more people regularly watch Peacock than Apple TV+, as subscriptions aren’t equivalent to active users. But the numbers still suggest Apple TV+ has room for a lot of growth in the U.S.
YouGov conducted a survey exclusively for Variety Intelligence Platform in September and found that fewer consumers reported recently using Apple TV+ then Disney+ and HBO Max, which lends credence to Ampere’s figures.
Ampere estimates Apple will spend about $2 billion on content in 2020 on a P&L basis. The P&L basis reflects spending on projects that get released during 2020 and is different from the content budgets you’ve probably seen reported on a cash basis, which reflect 2020 spending on projects released in future years.
On a cash basis, Ampere predicted Netflix in 2020 would spend about $13.6 billion on content, while that figure is $7.5 billion for Amazon.
It’s fair to criticize Apple TV+ for not being further along in its development of a sturdy roster of hits. But now that it seems to finally be getting there, giving more people more time to give it the consideration its programming probably didn’t merit earlier is shrewd. If you’re a company like Apple that can afford to be patient, that’s the right move.