The object of Apple TV+ isn’t just to be the superior streaming platform but the only streaming platform

Apple Park, in wide-open Cupertino, Calif., has large high-fidelity speakers all over the place, tucked behind trees and couched snuggly inside bushes. They pipe in electronic and neoclassical music — some of the Annihilation soundtrack and the German pianist Hauschka, I learned by asking Siri — and it comes at you multi-directionally, so that it feels as if your life has an original score. Strolling up a smooth asphalt footpath toward the Steve Jobs Theater, beside the nearly three-million square-foot circular headquarters everybody calls the Spaceship, you get the sense you’re embarking on an adventure. Friendly, enthusiastic men and women of indeterminate age stand at two-metre intervals, smiling and waving, an air about them of disguised vigilance.

“This is like Disneyland,” a colleague says at the yawning, spectacular entrance. I was thinking Jurassic Park.

If you’ve ever been in an Apple store, you can probably picture the Steve Jobs Theater. Every surface is either crystalline glass or smooth, polished white concrete, trimmed all over with pale wood accents. When Apple pioneered this crisp, fresh-ironed-shirt aesthetic, it seemed like a vision of the future, but today that future is familiar, and everything looks like an Apple store. The gleaming ivory expanses of the Apple campus, far from evoking fantastic science-fiction vistas, resemble every coffee shop and athleisure boutique in San Francisco.

CEO Tim Cook, Winfrey and Steven Spielberg. Michael Short/Getty Images

This is the problem with being so wildly influential: if the whole world now speaks your language, it’s hard to say something new or surprising.

Inside the auditorium, a lot of entertainment journalists — most, like me, brought in and hosted by Apple for the occasion — were talking and speculating. Near the front, out of reach of this rabble, M. Night Shyamalan milled about; Tim Robbins loomed over everybody — he’s 6’5 — and swung around his iPhone, taking selfies. Then the lights dimmed, and Tim Cook came on stage and did what Steve Jobs used to: he introduced us to something we’ve never heard of that within a year we can’t imagine ever having lived without. “This is Apple TV plus,” he said, in the same tone of measured verve that, a decade earlier, told us about the iPhone, and the iPad, and a dozen other innovations, or rather revelations.

I don’t know if the journalists assembled for the launch of the iPhone felt that they were witness to history. At the Apple TV+ launch, you could tell Apple wanted us to feel we were. Apple TV+ would bring together the greatest team of content creators ever assembled under one roof, Cook boasted early in the presentation — notwithstanding, I guess, the extraordinary teams of actors, writers and directors assembled by movie studios in the golden age of Hollywood. Apple TV+ would tell a whole bunch of new, original stories, including Amazing Stories, a remake of a network fantasy show that ran on NBC in the mid-1980s, itself based on a magazine from the 1920s. And Apple TV+ would simplify streaming by uniting other platforms — except Netflix, the proverbial elephant in the room.

To make the moment seem more epochal, Cook brought out some special guests, in much the way a magician brings out a rabbit. Steven Spielberg is working on a series about a pilot in the Second World War who leaps forward in time. Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon will star in a scripted drama about daytime news anchors called The Morning Show. Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard are making an action show about blind people, Kumail Nanjiani is making a comedy about a schoolboy who runs his deported parents’ motel, and J.J. Abrams is making a show about an aspiring singer-songwriter with “Love Song” singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, who elected to perform the show’s theme song live on the spot, for some reason. Also, Oprah made a speech about some stuff she’s producing, and her very presence was enough to make one of the reporters near me cry.

Having Oprah drop by your press conference is a good way to demonstrate how much money you have. But Apple, to their credit, cares less about showing off their immense wealth than about showing off their taste, and to that end the superstars trotted out during the launch showed the company angling for prestige, not fame.

Given enough capital to burn, any upstart media conglomerate or corporate mega-power can build a streaming library. That’s what Netflix and Amazon have been doing for several years, but throwing cash at would-be blockbusters and underwriting any old thing in the name of content is exactly how you end up with a catalogue of expensive junk. It’s not enough to earmark a billion dollars for a nebulous slate of Originals. The emphasis throughout the presentation was on standards, and the endorsement of Spielberg and Oprah is meant to instil faith that Apple TV+ will deliver a better class of content than Bright or The Cloverfield Project.

How many of the new Apple Originals need to be good for this to work? 

But wait. Another streaming service? There are too many already. The options are overwhelming and too expensive. I’ve got to pay for Netflix, and Hulu, and Mubi, and Shudder, and now Apple TV+ — and Disney’s launching one later this year, and maybe Warner Bros, and who knows what else? But this isn’t how Apple wants us to think of it, at least not long-term. When the iPhone came out, nobody said, damn, so now I have to carry a Blackberry and an iPhone? Apple wants to make things that are the only things of that kind that you need. Replacements. Definitive things. I think the object of Apple TV+ isn’t just to be the superior streaming platform but, eventually, the only streaming platform. I think they expect the content to be so good that you won’t even need to see what Netflix has.

This is hard to remember in the face of all the neat velociraptors, but the plot of Jurassic Park is that John Hammond, the wealthy industrialist, needs a few serious experts in archaeology and paleobotany to pen testimonials on behalf of his futuristic theme park, whose radical ambition and unprecedented innovations are at risk of being curtailed by beancounters who can’t comprehend the greatness contained therein. Apple wants us — perhaps needs us — to trust that it knows what it’s doing and that what it’s doing isn’t careless or cavalier. Instead of merely offering more television, it’s offering great television, or the promise of great television, which they hope will liberate us from the big, standard-less glut. It comes down to whether what they churn out this fall is any good. It could be.

As Tim Cook always says — I think it was Tim Cook — they spared no expense.




You may also like...