How Ap­ple can build a bet­ter stream­ing ser­vice

With its video push, Ap­ple rows gently down the stream. Here’s how it can keep up with the com­pe­ti­tion.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY DAN MOREN

So, you want to build a stream­ing ser­vice. At this point, the ev­i­dence that Ap­ple is jump­ing into stream­ing is in­con­tro­vert­ible. You don’t pony up a boat­load of cash for the likes of Steven Spiel­berg and not build a stream­ing ser­vice. Nor do you just shove that into Ap­ple Mu­sic, a plat­form which has proved to be only half-baked when it comes to stream­ing video.

No, this kind of $1 bil­lion in­vest­ment seems to call for a ma­jor re­vi­sion to in­fra­struc­ture as well. This is a se­ri­ous in­vest­ment, and so of course Ap­ple’s go­ing to want to be se­ri­ous about how it builds a ser­vice. So, let’s take a look at what’s crit­i­cal in such an en­deavor.

PUT IT ALL TO­GETHER

Here’s the thing: Ap­ple’s al­ready got all the in­gre­di­ents for a suc­cess­ful stream­ing ser­vice. It’s got mas­sive data cen­ters, it’s used to de­liv­er­ing huge amounts of con­tent, and it has tons of de­ployed de­vices in the mo­bile and liv­ing room spa­ces. In some ways, the only sur­prise is that Ap­ple has waited this long to de­ploy a ser­vice—all it seem­ingly lacked was the will to do so.

But, as with mu­sic, the com­pany took a very pur­chase-ori­ented ap­proach to video at first. The late Steve Jobs fa­mously said that no­body wanted to rent their mu­sic— stream­ing au­dio ser­vices have proved that wrong. Peo­ple are plenty happy to rent mu­sic, as­sum­ing that the sys­tem doesn’t un­duly ham­per them in the en­joy­ment of that mu­sic by putting oner­ous re­stric­tions on where, when, and how they can lis­ten.

And, as in mu­sic, pur­chas­ing dig­i­tal video has been los­ing ground to stream­ing. You need look no fur­ther than the re­cent launch of Movies Any­where ( go.mac­world.com/movi) to see that the con­tent pro­duc­ers are fi­nally try­ing to make buy­ing dig­i­tal movies work the way they al­ways should have. That’s be­cause stream­ing is eat­ing their lunch.

Mean­while, Ap­ple is watch­ing all the com­pa­nies rak­ing down money from video stream­ing and re­al­iz­ing that it too can have a piece of the pie—if it’s will­ing to in­vest. And that’s led us to where we are to­day.

THE WAY IT WORKS

Now that it seems pretty cer­tain an Ap­ple stream­ing ser­vice is in our fu­ture, the ques­tion is only what such a ser­vice looks like.

Some of this we can make ed­u­cated guesses about, based on the com­pany’s ex­pe­ri­ence with Ap­ple Mu­sic. There will prob­a­bly be sin­gle user and fam­ily op­tions. There will likely be a free three­month trial to get peo­ple ac­cus­tomed to us­ing the ser­vice. And it will al­most cer­tainly be tightly in­te­grated with Ap­ple’s ex­ist­ing video op­tions.

That last one is im­por­tant. Back when Ap­ple first an­nounced its TV app for both IOS and tvos, I pos­tu­lated that the cur­rent ver­sion of it was just the be­gin­ning ( go. mac­world.com/tvpl):

But it makes per­fect sense when you imag­ine [the TV app] as the dis­tri­bu­tion point for Ap­ple’s up­com­ing in-house con­tent. The com­pany may not have con­clu­sively won the bat­tle for In­put 1 in the liv­ing room, but if screen­shots of the new TV app are any in­di­ca­tion, it’s aim­ing to have spot num­ber one on your Ap­ple TV’S home screen. That app will be a prom­i­nent place to fea­ture all of Ap­ple’s up­com­ing series, eas­ily

sur­fac­ing them for view­ers who want to watch them as well as any­one who hasn’t heard about them yet.

I strongly be­lieve that Ap­ple’s video con­tent will live, and of course be promi­nently fea­tured, in the TV app. Not only does it al­ready have a spot on Ap­ple’s plat­forms, but it’s also been in­te­grated with users’ ex­ist­ing li­brary of videos from itunes. More to the point, putting video any­where else would be a bit of a head-scratcher, as Ap­ple has worked to pro­mote the TV app as a one-stop shop for your video con­tent.

PAS­SION PLAY

Be­sides Ap­ple’s own push into orig­i­nal con­tent, there re­mains a ques­tion of what else an Ap­ple stream­ing video ser­vice might con­tain. Of the many pieces of orig­i­nal con­tent the com­pany is go­ing to be de­vel­op­ing, not all are go­ing to be ready when Ap­ple wants to launch the ser­vice—nor should they be, since Ap­ple’s not go­ing to want to dump them all at once. So it’s likely that cat­a­log will need to be filled out with con­tent from other sources.

Which brings us back around to the long-run­ning idea of an Ap­ple stream­ing tele­vi­sion ser­vice. Look, I have to be­lieve that the bot­tom has fallen out of the à-la-carte-tv-episode mar­ket. With Net­flix, Hulu, and ev­ery­body and their dog of­fer­ing some sort of stream­ing op­tion, very few peo­ple are likely to pony up the cost to buy a full sea­son of TV. (At least in the U.S., where such things are broadly avail­able.) If Ap­ple can strike a deal for stream­ing of cur­rent TV, I think that would be ap­peal­ing—if it can’t, then the com­pany’s go­ing to have to rely on a back cat­a­log of TV shows. And, if this is truly a serve with se­ri­al­ized con­tent, it’s go­ing to need at least some TV shows—es­pe­cially in this cur­rent cli­mate of Peak TV.

Ap­ple’s al­ready made huge strides in push­ing for­ward dig­i­tal mu­sic, but video has al­ways been a tricky propo­si­tion for the com­pany, for the sim­ple rea­son that it doesn’t seem to care as much about TV and movies as it does about mu­sic. The hir­ing of key per­son­nel to han­dle the con­tent side of the busi­ness has made strides in that di­rec­tion, but Ap­ple’s got to tap into that same pas­sion if it’s go­ing to sell its cus­tomers on this ser­vice. ■

Be­sides Ap­ple’s own push into orig­i­nal con­tent, there re­mains a ques­tion of what else an Ap­ple stream­ing video ser­vice might con­tain.

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