Should we let Apple become the new Netflix?

Apple’s push into scripted TV could blow up TV as we know it

A collage of some of the top TV networks.
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Photo illustration by Josh Granovsky

Apple is the undisputed master of technology. However, recent announcements reveal Apple isn’t stopping until all the screens they’ve created are filled with their content as well — specifically, television.

A massive push into the world of television appears to be on the horizon for the tech company, as they’ve committed $1 billion to creating original television shows. Since November of 2017, the company has committed Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, Octavia Spencer, Steven Spielberg and Kristen Wiig to create five scripted, star power shows.

Though Apple’s $1 billion commitment is a fraction of Netflix’s $6 billion and Hulu’s $3 billion budgets, one can assume digital networks are still quivering in their virtual boots. But what does Apple’s jump into television mean for viewers or the landscape of TV as a whole?

2017 was a crowded year for the medium and led us barrelling towards the explosion of the ‘Peak TV’ bubble. 217 scripted series were produced in 2010 and Netflix, Hulu and Amazon combined accounted for four of those shows. 487 scripted shows were made last year and Netflix, Hulu and Amazon produced 117 of them.

With Apple throwing their hat — really their wallet — into the ring, it appears the already oversaturated TV market is about to become even more crowded. More television means more content, which means less time to watch everything you want. Maybe this lack of time explains why the top three television channels all suffered viewership declines of 10 per cent or more last year.

The hugely recognizable talent attached to Apple’s new shows are also having somewhat of a ripple effect throughout the television industry. Since Apple’s first show’s announcement in November, Netflix cancelled critical darling Lady Dynamite, Hulu parted ways with Difficult People and Amazon axed One Mississippi and Jean-Claude Van Johnson.

It appears Apple’s immediate target of shows with mass appeal is inspiring other networks to aim for bigger shows with larger viewership potential, leaving fans of these cancelled, niche comedies heartbroken.

Apple's TV initiative is also likely to plant seeds in the minds of other companies with built-in screen audiences. If Apple is successful in their jump to television, why couldn’t Google or Facebook do the same? It won’t be long before fellow media companies get wind of this idea and flood the television market with more content than ever before.

While these implications of Apple’s television programs could spell doom for businesses in the future, their role in TV production could equally improve television quality for good.

Apple has deep pockets, but so do Netflix and all the broadcast networks. So, what about Apple led Jennifer Aniston to return to TV in her first regular role since Friends? Or Kristen Wiig in her first role since SNL?

Apple is hungry for a hit, which means they want to land big stars to do the best work possible. The key to landing huge talent? Creative freedom. Though increased creative freedom could result in a flop, it has also resulted in formula-defying modern classics like Orange is the New Black and Master of None. It’s easy to envision how giving some of the most talented people in the world more autonomy could result in similar creative triumphs.

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The promotion woes cable networks face could also not be as much as a problem for Apple. A simple iPhone or Apple TV notification could promote a show to hundreds of millions instantly. If Apple can bring good television to the attention of as many people as possible, we should be rooting for their success.

Though only time will tell how Apple’s television initiative pans out, the sheer size of their reach and budget has the power to affect the landscape of television forever. It could lead to an increase of creative liberation onscreen or it could spread TV viewership so thin that it becomes basically non-existent. But hey, if that’s what it takes to bring Kristen Wiig back to television, I'm all for it.

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