Just where is Apple putting that $1 billion investment in TV programming? Apple may reveals its plans March 25.

Apple is expected to unveil its rumored TV service at an event March 25 at its Steve Jobs Theater.

James Martin/CNET

Apple’s been making it rain all over Hollywood for more than a year. We may finally find out what its $1 billion worth of TV shows is all about.

Apple is expected to unveil its rumored video service, as well as a news subscription service, at an event March 25 at its Cupertino, California, campus, according to reports.

For more than a year, the company has been deploying a $1 billion budget to recruit projects from high-profile film and television stars. Apple has nabbed big-name deals with Oprah WinfreyReese WitherspoonM. Night Shyamalan and Steven Spielberg, among many others. The company has hired two top television executives to spearhead the effort.

But Apple has been virtually silent about its ultimate plan for all this programmingCEO Tim Cook has made vague hints, stoking theories about what the company has in store. Cook teased Apple’s slate of original programs on a conference call, but he didn’t offer any specifics. “I’m not ready to extend the conversation beyond that point,” he said.

“We’ll have something to say more on that later,” he added.

That time may come March 25. Apple is expected to unveil its video service at a March 25 event and launch by the summer or fall, according to reports by Bloomberg and Variety. Stars working with Apple on original programming — including Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Garner and J.J. Abrams — are invited to the presentation, which will include clips from Apple’s new original series.

A news subscription service is also expected to be revealed during the event at the company’s Steve Jobs Theater on the Apple Park campus, according BuzzFeed News. But two other highly anticipated announcements — next-generation AirPods and a new iPad Mini — aren’t expected to show up.

Apple’s had a spotty track record with TV. Its set-top box, Apple TV, was a “hobby” for years. Steve Jobs said he “finally cracked” how to create a connected iTV set in 2011, but it never materialized following his death that year. The company failed to pin down deals for a virtual cable service. Apple has already released two original video series on its music subscription service, Apple Music. But those shows — reality competition Planet of the Apps and a spinoff of Carpool Karaoke — were flops.

And Apple’s forthcoming service would launch at a time when seemingly every major media property is putting out their own streaming option, from DC Universe’s comic-flavored fare to a planned Disney offering, not to mention stalwarts like Netflix.

But the $1 billion programming pipeline, the success of Apple Music, and the fact that Apple is on deadline to double its services revenue to $50 billion before 2021 have spurred speculation that a video service is en route to your iPhone and beyond.

What will Apple’s TV service look like?

Great question. Nobody outside Apple really knows. And Apple hasn’t made a peep yet. Plenty of people have theories.

The level of investment and the breadth of content in Apple’s pipeline have led many to predict that the company is planning a new video service. According to reports by VarietyCNBCThe Information and others, the service will include the original content Apple has greenlighted and also will offer add-on video subscriptions so that members can watch their own bundle of providers in one place, similar to Amazon Prime Video and its Channels model.

Rich Greenfield, an analyst for BTIG, believes Apple will give its $1 billion in programming away for free.

If you own an Apple device, Greenfield anticipates Apple will provide free access to all these productions in the TV app on iOS or Apple TV. “Think of Apple’s strategy along the lines of [Amazon’s] Prime Video,” he said in a September note. Apple’s hope is that viewers will come for Oprah or Spielberg and then tack on other paid services to watch HBO, Starz or Showtime all in the same place. (Apple traditionally takes a cut of a service’s subscription revenue when a user signs up through one of its storefronts.)

Apple plans to launch the service in the US followed by an expansion to more than 100 countries, according to a report.

Other speculation includes the idea Apple may create one bundle to rule them all. Apple’s takeover of Texture, a company that’s a sort of Netflix for magazines, and its reported plan to create a subscription news service have led some to suggest Apple may be building a way to package all your digital content in one place. A combination of Apple Music, subscription Apple News and a video service could give consumers a one-stop hub for much of their online entertainment.

And Apple Music overall has been a success for Apple. Although Apple Music launched seven years after world leader Spotify, Apple’s music subscription service quickly ascended into the No. 2 spot. Apple reportedly eclipsed Spotify’s subscriber numbers this summer in the US, the biggest music market in the world.

When will it launch?

Cook’s been talking about TV more in the last few months, which could be taken as a sign that it’s closer to becoming a reality.

After the expected unveiling in March, reports have indicated the service could launch in the summer in the US or even as late as the fall.

James Martin/CNET

How does this fit in with the competition?

Clearly, an Apple service with $1 billion worth of premium video will compete with the likes of NetflixAmazon PrimeHulu and others that stream on-demand, high-quality productions. As Netflix likes to point out, on-demand video services don’t just compete among themselves, they’re going up against anything that’s vying for your attention. So traditional television, YouTube and the parade of live-TV streaming service all make Apple’s competitive field even more crowded.

Apple’s expected plan to offer add-on subscriptions puts it in direct competition with Amazon Prime Video’s Channels offering and packages by Hulu.

What’s interesting is that Apple’s dive into original programming comes as other giants are ramping up their own original video ambitions.

Disney is expected to launch a Netflix-like service next year. Called Disney+, the digital service will be a home base for streaming all of Disney’s blockbuster movies, multiple Star Wars original series and other programming. It’ll cost “substantially” less than Netflix, CEO Bob Iger has said.

Meanwhile, NBCUniversal and HBO-owner WarnerMedia are both building their own streaming services. And Facebook has been pouring money into original video for the Watch section of its app.

Basically, if you’re interested in subscribing to all of these services, you may want to start saving up now.

Apple is a gadget giant. Why does it want to become Netflix?

Haven’t you heard? Everybody wants to be the Netflix of something. (PodcastsFitnessClothesGames! Even demand management.)

But besides Apple’s efforts to boost services revenue, Apple is taking aim at original video because it could be a crucial enticement for people to buy more iPhones and other gadgets.

You can’t overstate the importance of the iPhone to Apple. The phone, one of the most popular in the world, still accounts for more than half its sales and was critical to Apple’s march to become the first US company worth $1 trillion.

Apple quickly established its bona fides in subscriptions businesses with Apple Music. But the content on Apple Music is essentially the same as every other music service. They all have tens of millions of songs. Apple Music has been successful largely because of its presence on the iPhone, already in the pockets of millions of people. It hasn’t been nearly as successful working the other direction, acting as a lure to buy the latest Apple gadget.

Original video from big-name stars and creators you can’t watch anywhere else, however, could be different.

Apple clearly has a hunch it will be.

This piece was originally published Sept. 8, 2018, and is updated as new details come to light.



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