Sorry, Friends won’t be coming to Apple TV+ any time soon

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Friends
The One Where Apple Doesn't Pay Up.
Photo: Warner Bros.

Were you hoping for Friends on Apple TV+? According to Tim Cook, you’re out of luck.

During Wednesday’s shareholder meeting, an investor asked Cook why Apple hadn’t bought the streaming rights to the popular sitcom and its forthcoming special. Cook’s answer not only squashed hope of this happening in the immediate future, it also underlined his vision for Apple TV+.

“We love Friends, but it’s not what Apple TV+ is about,” Cook said. “Apple TV+ is about original programming. It doesn’t feel right for Apple to just go out and take a rerun.”

Apple Originals, not Friends

Since it launched in November 2019, Apple TV+ has debuted a variety of Apple Originals — including the award-winning The Morning Show with Friends alumni Jennifer Aniston. But it has no interest in chasing after the show which made her a household name.

That’s a very different strategy to other streaming giants. While everyone is creating original shows, they are bolstering these with existing content. It’s a strategy seen by everyone from Disney+ to established giant Netflix.

In late 2018, Netflix reportedly spent close to $80 million for the rights to Friends for one more year. Netflix doesn’t release statistics about the exact streaming numbers of shows. However, there was no shortage of reports claiming that, in various markets, Friends was Netflix’s hottest property. Yes, more than The Crown, Stranger Things, and other heavily hyped Netflix originals.

Furthermore, unlike those shows, Friends has stood the test of time. Or, at least, it’s been consistently popular for a quarter century, despite complaints that some of the jokes have aged poorly.

Apple is going for original programming

It goes without saying that Apple could afford Friends. Apple raked in $91.8 billion in revenue in its most recent quarter. While Friends certainly carries a high price tag, it also has 234 episodes, giving it in excess of 85 hours of additional content (something that Apple TV+ doesn’t have a whole lot of.) The idea that the only way to stream Friends would be via an Apple TV+ subscription would not only be a draw to customers, but also a shot across the bow of rivals.

By saying that Apple TV+ is only interested in original programming, Tim Cook has boldly stated Apple’s intentions for the service. Apple is interested in original programming because, more than ever, it understands the value of intellectual property.

By brokering its own deals and developing its own properties, Apple isn’t engaging in “hot potato” with TV shows that could be on Netflix one year, HBO Max the next.

Apple could own the next Friends

Interestingly, where Apple is borrowing from other proven hits is behind the scenes. Apple is acquiring talent such as Richard Plepler, the former HBO boss who has joined Apple TV+. HBO changed the face of television storytelling with its strategy focusing on original shows like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones. By poaching talent from the likes of HBO, Apple is aggressively pursuing its focus on making great original content.

Unlike the instant headlines that would have accompanied “Apple buys Friends,” this isn’t going to be an immediate attention-grabber. But if Apple continues to pursue its focus on quality over quantity, while giving away Apple TV+ to its most dedicated (read: regular upgrading) customers, Apple’s got a great long-term strategy in place.

When the next Friends (or Sopranos. Or Game of Thrones) comes along, Apple will own it. For good.