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Apple’s TV strategy is still an embarrassing joke

Published Jun 30th, 2017 10:08AM EDT

Last year, I wrote that Apple’s TV strategy was an aimless disaster and that company executives, at a fundamental level, appeared to have no concept as to what makes for a compelling TV viewing experience. Many months later, the sad reality is that Apple’s TV strategy remains a disorganized and embarrassing mess, with little evidence that change is on the horizon.

What’s particularly damning is that Apple doesn’t even seem to understand how viewers consume TV in today’s streaming-centric landscape. And to make matters worse, recent reports indicate that Apple’s arrogance and its “our way or the highway” philosophy has significantly hampered the company’s TV ambitions. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that we saw a number of rumors regarding Apple’s plans to roll out a TV subscription service.

Unfortunately, the examples of Apple’s incompetence in the TV space are not in short supply.

First off, let’s start with Planet of the Apps. By all accounts, I fall into the demographic of users who should have loved Apple’s first foray into original programming. Not only do I enjoy all kinds of reality TV, I’m also a huge tech enthusiast. Not only that, I was a big fan of a reality show that was very similar to what Planet of the Apps was hoping to accomplish, a tech-themed Shark Tank type show on TBS called Americas Greatest Makers. That said, I was genuinely interested in watching Planet of the Apps.

There was one slight problem, though.

Apple practically made it impossible to watch, a curiously short-sighted move for a company that presumably wants to get people excited about a new show. Instead of making the first episode available on YouTube, Apple hid it behind Apple Music. Now seeing as how I’m a Spotify fan, I figured I’d just stream it to my phone. Alas, another roadblock as Apple wouldn’t let me stream it unless I happened to be on a Wi-Fi connection. Push come to shove, the only way I was able to watch the show was via iTunes on my Mac. In an age where everything is skewed towards mobile, it’s absolutely mind boggling that Apple would make users otherwise interested in checking out the show jump through hoops in order to access it.

Why is it that I can stream countless episodes of House of Cards from anywhere, but watching original programming from Apple is nothing short of an exercise of frustration? Are Apple executives so far removed from reality that they can’t even appreciate how most people consume content these days?

Second, Planet of the Apps wasn’t even a good show to begin with. Again, the show should have been right up my alley but it was anything but a compelling or entertaining viewing experience. All in all, it’s not a good look when a retail-oriented company like Amazon can swoop in and deliver easily accessible and award-winning content while Apple can only muster up a show that was universally panned. Without exaggeration, the only buzz Planet of the Apps managed to generate was overwhelmingly negative. Meanwhile, Apple’s second offering — a documentary on Bad Boy records — was also subject to mostly negative reviews. Apple’s original programming thus far is akin to a restaurant that serves up dishes no one wants to eat.

Third, Apple needs to stop bundling everything behind Apple Music. The Music app is jumbled enough as is and forcing video into the mix doesn’t do anyone any favors.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, Apple needs to stop behaving as if their standing in the smartphone market carries any weight in the entertainment world. Apple can use its clout with the iPhone to secure favorable component deals, but word is that Apple believes it can do the same with Hollywood executives and studios.

Business Insider reported last week:

“Eddy [Cue] is extremely smart,” a former Apple Music staffer said, but Cue is “very aggressive” in negotiations with people outside Apple. “In that area , Eddy negotiates like they need Apple. Not everybody is on board that they need Apple.” With the music industry, Apple had a lot more leverage than with TV, this person explained.

“They were trying TV stuff, but things would always fall through with networks,” another former Apple Music employee said. This person said that everyone in Apple Music had a great deal of respect for Cue, and that he was a smart guy, but that he could be overbearing in negotiations (“like a dictator” was the exact phrasing).

This is outrageous. It’s one thing to be a strong negotiator, it’s a completely another thing to be so deluded with arrogance as to think studios and networks should bend over backwards to work with Apple. Does Cue, or any other Apple executive for that matter, realize just how much good TV there is today? Does Cue recognize how accessible and affordable this TV content is? If Apple wants to get any legitimate deals done, it needs to recognize that it’s not negotiating from a position of strength.

All in all, Apple’s TV strategy as of late can be summed up thusly: Release a forgettable show, make it hard for interested viewers to access, and then alienate the very people needed to churn out compelling content.

The good news is that change may be coming soon. For starters, Carpool Karaoke is set to be released in just a few weeks. I’m not a big fan of the concept myself, but there’s no denying that millions of other people are. Hopefully Apple will have the foresight to make some episodes, or at least some snippets, available to the masses via YouTube. Hiding content behind a defacto Apple Music paywall is utterly bizarre. Second, Apple recently hired Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, two seasoned TV executives who actually know what they’re doing and are responsible for bringing Breaking Bad to Sony a few years back.

At the very least, Apple’s moves in the TV space have been so abysmal that the company can’t really go anywhere but up at this point.

Yoni Heisler Contributor

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.