I appreciate the audacity and ambition of what Apple’s trying to do with music. I’m second to none in my admiration that the company rolled out a massive streaming service and worldwide radio station to 100 countries with relatively few hiccups. That’s a testament to its clout and its ability to change the world—when it cares enough.
Apple seems to succeed best when its business interests intersect with its passion. But though the company’s repeatedly banged the drum, as it were, about how music is part of its DNA, the same claims have never really extended to television and movies.
Over the years, Apple has touted each new music milestone from the iTunes Store, but updates on the company’s movie and TV business have been few and far between. From a purely nuts and bolts perspective, I suspect that’s because iTunes’s video business has never had the meteoric success that music has. The most current number I could find was slipped into a press release in June 2013, when HBO Go and WatchESPN were added to the Apple TV:
iTunes® users have downloaded more than 1 billion TV episodes and 380 million movies from iTunes to date, and they are purchasing over 800,000 TV episodes and over 350,000 movies per day.
At that point, TV episodes had been available on the store for around eight years (since 2005), which means the company was averaging around 125 million episodes a year. That sounds like a pretty good number until you realize that earlier in 2013, the iTunes Store also recorded 25 billion songs sold, or around 2.5 billion songs a year since its launch in 2003.
That said, Steve Jobs isn’t around anymore—this is Tim Cook’s Apple. Then again, I’m not convinced that Tim Cook himself is much of a TV watcher personally—sporting matches excluded. Fitness and health is his bailiwick, and he does a great job conveying his own passion and enthusiasm for those aspects of Apple’s business.
But what Apple needs is someone to make the case for television. To talk about why it’s great and why Apple thinks its service, whatever it is, is the greatest thing since the invention of the remote control. It needs a television advocate. Admittedly, television is hard to demo on stage—while you can have U2 come out and play a few songs, you can’t really have the audience watch a whole episode of Mad Men or Game of Thrones. But I’d like to see someone who can make me believe that Apple cares about television being great as much as it cares about music being great.
Maybe that’s wishful thinking. I mean, Apple went out and spent $3.2 billion on a music company; it hasn’t done anything of that magnitude on the TV side. Still, among the ranks of vice presidents and product managers working on a project as large as a new TV service there surely must be someone who can be passionate and eloquent about why television is important.
I’ve been waiting for a solid Apple subscription TV service for as long as I’ve been writing about the company. This is an area that, as cringeworthy as the phrase might be, is ripe for disruption. Apple could be the one to do it, but it also needs to be able to convince the viewing audience that the time is right to change the channel.
Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.