Can Apple school Netflix in creating original content?

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Who wouldn't want to watch House of Cupertino?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple’s getting ready to sink its teeth into original programming, according to recent reports, and there are suggestions it will launch a new video streaming service for Apple TV. The Cupertino company has already taken the fight to Spotify with Apple Music, so why not Netflix next?

Friday-Night-Fights-bug-2The big question is, does Apple have what it takes to produce shows as good as House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt all by itself? And would it really want to?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight between Cult of Android and Cult of Mac as we battle it out over Apple’s supposed invasion on Netlix’ turf.

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke Dormehl (Writer, Cult of Mac): I’m going to start this off by pulling a B-Rabbit from 8 Mile and acknowledging the issues you’re going to have with me on this.

First up, do I want the Apple TV refresh to be great? Absolutely I do. I’m a long-time Apple user and just about every device I use is made by the company, from iMac to iPad to iPhone. I’ve never owned an Apple TV, though, precisely because we’ve heard so many rumors about it’s forthcoming redesign and, frankly, it seemed to be the one product Apple was still retooling to get absolutely right.

Apple’s a creative company with tons of links to Hollywood and more money in the bank than a dozen Scrooge McDucks. Could it beat Netflix at the original programming game? 100 percent it could. Will it? Sadly, I just don’t see it happening.

Apple’s done more and more producing of its own content, whether that’s in-house music videos or adverts — not to mention Beats 1. But original TV or film programming is another game altogether. It’s one Netflix has played incredibly well: becoming the first tech company to win an Emmy and knocking it out of the park with everything from your beloved House of Cards to Daredevil. That’s not a matter of having money to spend: it’s picking the right projects, cultivating the right talent, and having a willingness to embrace offbeat projects which wouldn’t necessarily have been made elsewhere.

Netflix right now is like Miramax in the the early 1990s. It’s not the biggest studio, but it’s one that believes totally in what it’s doing and is generating a massive buzz by picking correctly each time.

Apple just hasn’t shown that level of commitment to TV before, and I don’t see that changing. I think next week’s Apple TV refresh is going to be exciting. I just don’t think Apple’s going to embrace original programming in the way it needs to to beat Netflix. Maybe it can hit Amazon Prime levels, though.

Will the new Apple TV have exclusive shows and movies?
Will the new Apple TV have exclusive shows and movies?
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Killian-FNFKillian Bell (Writer, Cult of Mac): I don’t remember any “B-Rabbits” in 8 Mile. I do remember the mouse that was brought back to life by the incredible healing powers of John Coffey, but I don’t see how that has anything to do with this week’s fight.

I’m not sure if an original TV series or even an original movie is out of Apple’s reach. I do acknowledge that Netflix is killing it — House of Cards is quite possibly the greatest show to ever grace television — but I think Apple could produce shows that are just as entertaining. We know it has the money, and if there’s a company that excels in picking up the right talent, it’s Apple.

I also think Apple would have more success with original video content than exclusive tracks and albums on Apple Music. Bands and artists rarely like the idea of making their music available through just one distribution channel, so I can’t imagine it’s easy to find big artists who are willing to sign up to deals like that. However, this kind of practice commonplace in the world of TV — every show is exclusive to one network, at least initially.

But I don’t think Apple will use original content to sell Apple TVs — all that needs is an App Store and it’s going to be huge. If the company does produce original content, it will use it to sell a video subscription service that will directly compete against Netflix.

I think it would be impossible for Apple to offer the whole iTunes catalog of movies and TV shows for a monthly fee — no studio is going to agree to that — so Apple will need something to differentiate its service, and original content could be the key. Apple could also offer that content through iTunes — to buy and own — to make more money from it.

It makes sense, I think, and Apple certainly has the resources to make it happen.

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: So you agree with me, then? Great.

I do think we’re going to see Apple TV get a massive step up next week. For whatever reason, it seems like it’s been more of a focus under Tim Cook than it ever was under Steve Jobs, who publicly referred to Apple TV as more of a hobby than anything. But I’m not holding my breath about great original content.

Apple does a lot of things very well, but producing original shows is a giant reach for the company. It’s something which makes perfect sense for Netflix, but Apple’s got other concerns. To stand out, it’s going to have to be willing to invest in some original, bold and probably controversial properties. And I just don’t see that happening.

The discussion of original content feels far more like Apple trying to keep up with what other companies are doing rather than making a bold step in a new direction. If it was, it would make sense for Apple to announce some big projects right off the bat next week. But everything we’ve heard suggests original programming’s going to be at least a year away.

I could be wrong on this and we might see Quentin Tarantino come out on stage September 9 and announce an exclusive ongoing series he’s developing solely for Apple TV, but I doubt it. And that speaks volumes about where the company’s priorities lie.

Hey, you can’t blame Apple, though. It can’t do everything!

Netflix claims it isn't worried, but it should be.
Netflix claims it isn’t worried, but it should be.
Photo: Netflix

Killian-FNFKillian: Again, I don’t think we should tie the Apple TV to original content too much. As I mentioned above, I don’t think Apple is exploring the idea of original content to sell set-top boxes; they will sell like hot cakes all by themselves just as soon as they have access to third-party apps and games.

But I think original content is a definite possibility if Apple is planning a video subscription service. And why not? It’s into music streaming now, so why not video, too?

Apple wouldn’t necessarily have to do it all, either. It could team up with an independent studio and throw them loads of money to make an exclusive show. But I think Apple could do it all if it wanted to. As you mentioned before, it already has ties to Hollywood.

Jobs was a major shareholder in Disney, and the company has long enjoyed a good relationship with Apple. They’ve worked with Martin Scorsese and countless other actors, directors, and writers on ads, its Meet the Filmmaker podcasts, and other projects. Apple executives also have showbiz friends; Ricky Gervais has talked about receiving the latest Apple devices as gifts from Jony Ive.

The company is starting off in a much better position than Netflix did, and despite what Netflix’s CEO says, the idea of Apple making original video content and launching a rival service has to be a concern.

Whether Apple goes it alone or has help from a studio, I think it would be a good investment. Not only would a great show sell a video streaming service, but it could also be available separately through iTunes for those who want to hold onto a digital copy of it forever. Apple can sell it twice!

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: I definitely think that Apple will give plenty of reasons to make Apple the refreshed Apple TV a buyable proposition. I sadly just think anyone expecting original content to be anything more than Apple paying lip service to a developing trend could be sorely disappointed.

Increasingly that’s what companies like Netflix are going to rely on to grow audiences, and given the high bar they’ve already set, it’s not something Apple can hope to compete with just by throwing “loads of money” at an independent studio. There’s a lot about Apple Music that feels like an afterthought. I just hope Apple’s original programming doesn’t turn out to be the same thing.

The other elephant in the room when it comes to Netflix’s high level of success is the amount and quality of user data it has at its disposal. House of Cards was probably the most data-driven commission in history up until that point, with Netflix combing through its datasets to find correlations and viewer interests that it could turn into a winning product. It succeeded admirably in that regard. Since then, it’s also let viewers in on the creative process by allowing them to vote on the success of TV pilots before they’re turned into series.

After more than a decade of iTunes, you’d hope Apple would have some pretty great data available to it, also — although how would that fit into Tim Cook’s anti-privacy stance? As to letting viewers in on the creative process, let’s just say that Apple’s not exactly the most transparent of companies around.

But, hey, let’s hope I’m proven wrong.

Killian-FNFKillian: If Netflix, which was just a DVD rental service not too long ago, can produce great TV shows, Apple can, too. It has already shaken up countless industries in the past, including the music industry, so it can do the same to Hollywood.

But anyway, let’s stop bickering and turn this one over to the readers now. Clearly you don’t agree with me, but someone has to… right?

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?