Last year, an investor projected that Apple would be spending up to $4.2 billion on original content by 2022, but if the reports coming out now about what that content will look like are correct, the company may want its money back.
A new Wall Street Journal article highlights some of the tensions that Apple faces as it looks to create a streaming media service in the age of Handmaid’s Tale, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Game of Thrones, and even The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
To set the table, The Journal walked readers through some of the issues Tim Cook apparently had with Vital Signs, a title the company had acquired loosely based on the biography of rap legend (and former head of the billion dollar Apple acquisition, Beats) Dr. Dre.
Reportedly, after Cook saw scenes including a mansion orgy, white lines, and drawn guns the Apple chief put the kibosh on the whole production saying it was too violent and not something that Apple can air.
For Apple’s content business, gratuitous profanity, sex or violence are all verboten as the company tries to thread the needle between being a widely beloved producer of high quality consumer goods and purveyor of paid entertainment to a public that’s increasingly enthralled with blood and gore at its circuses.
In other words, Apple’s mores seem a little misplaced.
There’s a problem for Apple as it tries to stitch together a studio while limiting itself to the entertainment equivalent of cream of wheat. Plenty of other other technology companies are gunning for that number one slot and studios are fighting for their very survival.
Money may talk in Hollywood, but creative control, ensuring an audience for a show, and the continued viability of programming also have their place. Creators may find that they’re far more comfortable wrapped in a quilt that has more varied programming where their shows may be buoyed by the success of other, darker programming that appeals to a broader audience.
If Apple’s aversion to potentially scandalous storylines is as extreme as The Wall Street Journal article makes it seem — requesting the removal of crucifixes from a set to avoid offending religious sensibilities in an M. Night Shyamalan drama; parting ways with show-runners because of the “dark tone” they were taking in a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories and the big budget vehicle for Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon; spiking the Dr. Dre show entirely — it may not even be able to field series as enjoyable as reported Cook favorite Friday Night Lights (which featured teenage sex, underage drinking, abortion, and extreme religiosity alongside the familial and football foibles of Eric and Tammy Taylor).
Apple’s ambitions to be the go to spot for family friendly fare also risks being thwarted by the only studio that’s managed to fend off the tech giants encroaching on the entertainment world — Disney. The mighty mouse house has plans for its own streaming service (and already has a place for more mature content to reside). A bundled package that includes discounts could be an unbeatable option for would-be subscribers — and makes up for the fact that Disney’s own streaming service won’t have R-rated films.
With competition so fierce it doesn’t make much sense for Apple to box its own content service into a corner just as it’s struggling to get its footing the ring.
All that said, having a roughly $200 billion pile of cash sitting in the corner definitely gives Apple’s streaming contender a fighting chance. The question is whether an audience will stick around to watch what’s likely to be a bloodless fight.