Apple launches Woke TV
Hollywood actors and tech billionaires getting together to make content that will inform and educate sounds like terrible entertainment, writes Tracey Follows
Finally it’s arrived. The long awaited Apple announcement of its new TV offering was unveiled on Monday with a cast so star-studded it was difficult to separate it from the Oscars. The question is, will Apple be the winner?
In effect Apple announced the launch of Apple TV+, an ad-free subscription video service. The one thing it did not announce was the price, which might lead us to assume that access to the service will either be free for iOS users or may use a tiered pricing system dependent upon how entrenched you are in the Apple world.
But whilst we wait to hear more on how much it will cost, we do know that the new Apple TV app through which much of the content will be available will be on Smart TVs, starting with Samsung and rolling out to Sony, LG et al later on. It will also, for the first time, be available on Macs.
Other announcements include a refresh of Apple News - magazines are being added (current and past issues) and the price of access is $10 per month. And if you're not sure how you'll afford all this, you can now acquire the new Apple credit card, which will exist as both a virtual card and as a titanium physical card that links to your Wallet app.
As Apple made clear, it is empire building as well as ecosystem building across a host of everyday utilities and services.
So, what has Apple got right?
Well, the TV service is ad-free and the credit card service promises privacy around personal data too - i.e. Apple is protecting user privacy and is not going to sell on its customers' data to third parties. In building the Apple ecosystem, the company is trying to build-in trust from the beginning.
Data protection, privacy, and brand safety are huge issues right now, and Apple is embedding online health and safety into its services, making that a competitive differentiator. But it will be interesting to see how much this costs (because it will).
The content on offer through Apple TV+ is clearly premium. Big name Hollywood directors and actors bringing their stories to the screen in an ad-free environment will certainly become a headache for Netflix.
Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon star in The Morning Show. Steven Spielberg, once a vociferous opponent of streaming services, has seen the light and come on board. JJ Abrahams and Sara Bareilles gave viewers a taste of their show, Little Voice, and Kumail Nanjiani previewed Little America, an anthology series about US immigrants.
To be honest, none of this felt humble or ‘little’.
Becoming accessible on smart TVs whilst also readying us for a world which might not even be about screens is good too. Making the Apple TV app available on Macs shows that, much like Netflix, this is a TV service for people without TVs.
Furthermore, the app curates and aggregates pretty much every content service (CBS, Showtime, Hulu, HBO et al) except Netflix and can suggest and recommend what to watch next.
But what niggles?
The whole presentation of Apple TV+ felt more like education than entertainment. Not only is that evident through the content creators that make up the Apple TV+ stable, but also in the language used to birth this service to the world.
I think it was Tim Cook who said ‘we want to intellectually challenge and thrill’, and we will ‘encourage new ways of looking at the world’. That’s all well and good and, if you are a documentary channel, very understandable.
But the fact that Oprah is the big central offer to the service grates. As she said, the aim of her content is to heal divisions in society, and "that's why I've joined forces with Apple to illuminate consciousness." Her first two projects will be focused on toxic labour and mental health.
‘Join in this Mission for the Common Good’ and ‘Leave more Enlightened’.
In fact I am enlightened, as I realise that Apple TV+ is basically Woke TV.
A group of Hollywood actors and tech billionaires getting together to make content that will inform and educate the little people with sophisticated cosmopolitan stories of how we should all live a worthy life, proscribing ‘progressive’ views on gender, race and mental health amongst other things.
No room for dissent and debate here, Apple have mapped out what we should be thinking and they are now going to give us the stories that reinforce that world view. And who better than preacher-teacher Oprah to deliver the lesson.
I’m old fashioned, I think TV should entertain. Don’t get me wrong, I love documentaries. But my favourites are about the small stuff, the everyday insights about people and their lives that I’ve missed or would never have uncovered myself.
One of the reasons Ricky Gervais’ Netflix series ‘After Life' so connects is because it is about real people in real situations, coping with the reality of life. But Apple don’t want you to see that life - it’s not very ‘premium’. There’ll be no ‘Rita, Sue and Bob too’ around here.
And no sports either, you’ll notice, that’s much too fun. That's a big problem if you want to build global audiences around big social ‘events’, not just social ‘issues’. This will be a handicap not in relation to competing with other streaming services, but when Apple comes up against Pay TV. No play? No pay.
All the trends point to the fact that we are already moving into a time that eschews escapism and overblown hyperbole, and are now actively seeking more reality, more authenticity, more tangible things - which includes more tangible stories. Stories of people and places that are real.
The Apple TV+ presentation looked like Apple had been left behind, stuck in a fantasy and dreamlike Hollywood world whose bubble well and truly popped a couple of years back.
When Oprah announced that she was also working on a virtual book club, which would see the book discussions streamed into bookstores around the world, it seemed as though she had missed the fact that there are hardly any book shops left. She had transported us back to 2007, not propelled us forward into 2027.
Entertainment is about fans. Building a fan base, giving those fans a voice, creating debate and conversation and ways for fans to participate in the narrative. If Apple fails, it will be because there is no expression for the fans. Apple has the narrative all sewn up.
With Woke TV there are no fans - only disciples. Apple might be on a mission, but if that mission ends in purgatory, that's not a fun place to be on a Saturday night.