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Main article: Apple tv

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Week in Review: Apple’s rebirth as a content company has a forgettable debut

16:00 | 1 December

Hey everyone. Thank you for welcoming me into you inboxes yet again.

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. After dodging your inboxes for a couple weeks as I ventured off to China for a TechCrunch event in Shenzhen, I am rested up and ready to go.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox here, and follow my tweets here.


The big story

When Apple announced details on their three new subscription products (Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and Apple News+ — all of which are now live) back in March, the headlines that followed all described accurately how Apple’s business was increasingly shifting away from hardware towards services and how the future of the company may lie in these subscription businesses.

I largely accepted those headlines as fact, but one thing I have been thinking an awful lot about this week is how much I have loved Disney+ since signing up for an account and just how little I have thought about Apple TV+ despite signing up for both at their launches.

It’s admittedly not the fairest of comparisons, Disney has decades of classic content behind them while Apple is pushing out weekly updates to a few mostly meh TV shows. But no one was begging Apple to get into television. The company’s desires to diversify and own subscriptions that consumers have on their Apple devices certainly make sense for them, but their strategy of making that play without the help of any beloved series before them seems to have been a big miscalculation.

At TechCrunch, we write an awful lot about acquisitions worth hundreds of million, if not billions, of dollars. Some of the acquisitions that have intrigued me the most have been in the content space. Streaming networks are plunking down historic sums on series like Seinfeld, Friends and The Big Bang Theory. The buyers have differed throughout these deals, but they have never been Apple.

That’s because Apple isn’t bidding on history, they’re trying to nab directors and actors creating the series that will be the next hits. And while that sounds very Apple, it also sounds like a product that’s an awfully big gamble to the average consumer looking to try out a new streaming service. Why pick the service that’s starting from a standstill? Apple has ordered plenty of series and I have few doubts that at least one of the shows they plan to introduce is going to be a hit, but there isn’t much in the way of an early favorite yet and for subscribers that haven’t found “the one” yet, there’s very little reason to stick around.

Apple tv plus tv app 091019

Other networks with a half-dozen major series can afford a few flops because there’s a library of classics that’s filling up the dead space. Apple’s strategy is bold but is going to lead to awfully high churn among consumers that won’t be as forgiving of bad bets. This is an issue that’s sure to become less pronounced over time, but I would bet there will be quite a few consumers unsubscribing in the mean time leaving those on freebie subscriptions responsible for gauging which new shows are top notch.

Apple has also made the weird move of not housing their content inside an app so much as the Apple TV’s alternative UI inside the TV app. One one hand, this makes the lack of content less visible, but it also pushes all of the original series to the back of your mind. If you’re a Netflix user who has been subconsciously trained never to use the TV app on your Apple TV because none of their content is housed there, you’re really left forgetting about TV+ shows entirely when using the traditional app layout.

We haven’t received any super early numbers on Apple News+, Apple Arcade or Apple TV+, but none of the three appears to have made the sizable cultural splashes in their debuts that were hoped for at launch. Apple’s biggest bet of the three was undoubtedly TV+ and while their first series haven’t seemed to drop any jaws, what’s more concerning is whether the fundamentals of the service have been arranged so that unsatisfied subscribers feel any need to stick around.

Send me feedback
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On to the rest of the week’s news.

Image via AMY OSBORNE/AFP/Getty Images

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • Facebook buys a game studio building Light saber Fruit Ninja
    One of the things I wrote about this week was Facebook buying the game studio behind one of virtual reality’s most popular titles, Beat Saber. No details on a price tag for the deal, but the buy brings the hop IP underneath Facebook’s corporate umbrella which seems poised to be eying more VR content acquisitions.
  • Twitter plans for account memorials
    Almost any time Twitter decides to make a big product change, one gets the feeling it was either snuck through or brute-forced by the CEO or another exec. That’s because there often doesn’t seem to be a lot of consideration for caveats that users seem to collectively identify almost immediately. This week was time for another one of these situations, after Twitter announced it was planning to deactivate old unused Twitter accounts en masse, something users realized was just going to lead to deactivating deceased people’s accounts and erasing what they had ever tweeted. Twitter, to their credit, decided to pause and rethink things.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Google appears to bring the hammer down on activism:
    [Google employee activist says she has been fired]

Disrupt Berlin

DISRUPT SF 530X350 V2 berlin

It’s hard to believe it’s already that time of the year again, but we just announced the agenda for Disrupt Berlin and we’ve got some all-stars making their way to the stage. I’ll be there this year, get some tickets and come say hey!

Sign up for more newsletters in your inbox (including this one) here.

 


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HBO’s former CEO said to be in talks with Apple TV+ for an exclusive production deal

23:54 | 12 November

The man who oversaw the creation of some of HBO’s most highly-praised ‘prestige TV’ could soon be making shows for Apple TV+, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. Richard Plepler, who was HBO’s Chairman and CEO up until he parted ways with the company last February following its acquisition by AT&T, is nearing an exclusive production deal with Apple’s new original content streaming service, the report says.

Plepler, who spent almost 30 years at HBO, including six as its CEO during which the media company aired some of its biggest hits, including ‘Game of Thrones,’ would definitely bring some big-name industry influence to Apple’s efforts. Not that Apple TV+ lacks for that in its early offing, either: The premiere slate of original shows include Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon-led ‘The Morning Show,’ and and a show centred around Oprah’s Book Club, just to name a couple of examples.

The deal, which isn’t yet final but might be signed officially “within the next few weeks,” per the report, would be between Apple and Plepler’s RLP & Co., a production company he established after leaving HBO. There’s nothing yet to indicate what kind of projects he’d be working on for Apple TV+, but it’s a logical target for Apple’s new original content enterprise to pursue, given that its focus thus far appears to be on fewer, big budget and high-profile projects, but critical reception hasn’t been up to par with the kind of TV that HBO has a track record of producing.

 


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Can’t find the new Apple TV+ shows, like ‘Dickinson?’ This shortcut can help.

23:38 | 6 November

The Apple TV app is so bad, someone had to create a shortcut just to make it easier to navigate to the new Apple TV+ content. Apple may have invested billions in its Apple TV+ streaming service and hosted star-studded events to tout its new shows, but what it apparently didn’t do is give much thought to designing its TV app to help direct users to its exclusive content.

Instead, the Apple TV+ shows were mixed in with everything else at launch — forcing users to scroll past What to Watch recommendations and more from the larger iTunes catalog just to find the Apple TV+ section.

And even if and when you found that Apple TV+ section, each individual show page is poorly organized, too. Instead of following the standard format where a season’s episodes are listed in vertical order on an iPhone, Apple’s TV app opts for a horizontal scroll instead. It’s frustrating. It’s confusing. No one likes it.

Apple TV+ may only include a handful of shows at launch, but it still deserves its own, dedicated tab — like Apple’s very own Netflix within the larger construct of the TV app. Part of the problem, as detailed by 9to5Mac here, is that Apple’s TV app has been designed to be a jack-of-all-trades. It connects you to your iTunes library of rentals and purchases, to your add-on premium subscriptions, to your TV Everywhere-authenticated apps, and to some — but not all — of your favorite streaming services.

But the end result is an app that’s sort of a mess and one that failed to carve out a dedicated space for Apple TV+.

This problem also annoyed MacStories Editor-in-Chief Federico Viticci, who wanted an easier way to navigate directly to the Apple TV+ catalog content.

His solution? An iOS shortcut.

Viticci figured out a way to create URLs that will open any Apple TV+ section you want to get to in the TV app. Similar to how Apple Music web links can be edited to direct to content right in the Apple Music app, Apple TV+ web links can also be tweaked to launch the TV app — without redirecting you through Safari first. This is done by replacing the “https” part of the content URL with “com.apple.tv,” he explains.

With this discovery, Viticci was then able to create a shortcut that lets you go directly to any Apple TV+ page — including the “front page” for Apple TV+ or the individual show pages for shows like The Morning Show, For All Mankind, See, and Dickinson.

Apple TV+’s catalog is a bit larger than that, of course, and will continue to grow. But you can continue to edit the shortcut to meet your needs.

To add something new to the default list of shows, you’ll first have to locate the show in the TV+ app — good luck! You’ll then tap the “Share” button then choose “Copy” to copy the link to your clipboard. In the shortcut, you’ll add a new “Text” item to the action that’s at the beginning of the shortcut, and name it what you like. Finally, you’ll paste in the link you had copied into the “Value” field.

Ta-da! You updated the shortcut!

Or if you just want to use the iOS shortcut as is, so you can get right to Dickinson, you can add it by clicking here.

Viticci tells TechCrunch he expects to keep adding sections as well as links for more shows, as these become available. The shortcut, which is called simply “Apple TV+ Launcher,” will be updated in the MacStories Archive so people can re-download the latest version as needed, he says.

Of course, when people are building a shortcut to work around an app’s poor navigation, there’s a bigger problem that needs to be addressed.

Now, it’s possible that Apple intentionally mixed in Apple TV+ content in such a way to not make it look like it was using its platform power to give its own service a boost, in light of the recent antitrust and anticompetitive investigations into its business practices. But Apple usually doesn’t go so far as to offer a poor user experience — that’s just not in its ethos.

Besides, Apple certainly wasn’t shy about marketing the streaming service in other ways — as with the push notifications or the big Apple TV+ banner at the top of the Apple TV homescreen, for example.

Instead, this just looks like a case of needing to tweak the app’s design.

Until then, we can just use the shortcut to help.

(Image credits: MacStories)

 

 


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Apple TV+ will cost $5.99 in Canada, £4.99 in the UK and INR 99 in India

00:54 | 12 September

At its big press event yesterday, Apple announced that its TV+ streaming service would cost $4.99 per month and a launch date on November 1. But it’s supposed to be available in more than 100 countries, so what does that pricing look like outside the United States?

The Streamable has rounded up TV+ pricing in different countries — and you can verify the number yourself by checking out the countryspecific versions of Apple’s announcement.

The service will cost $5.99 CAD ($4.54 US) in Canada, £4.99 ($6.15) in the United Kingdom, 4.99€ ($5.50) in the rest of Europe, A$7.99 ($5.48) in Australia, 600 JPY ($5.57) in Japan and INR 99 ($1.38) in India. That’s significantly cheaper than Netflix or Disney+ across-the-board — though in India, it’s still more expensive than Disney-owned Hotstar.

And if that’s not affordable enough for you, you’ll also get a year of free access when you purchase select Apple hardware.

The launch titles should include “The Morning Show” (a drama set in the world of morning TV and starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carrell) and “See” (a post-apocalyptic series starring Jason Momoa).

 


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Apple suspends Siri response grading in response to privacy concerns

06:51 | 2 August

In response to concerns raised by a Guardian story last week over how recordings of Siri queries are used for quality control, Apple is suspending the program world wide. Apple says it will review the process that it uses, called grading, to determine whether Siri is hearing queries correctly, or being invoked by mistake.

In addition, it will be issuing a software update in the future that will let Siri users choose whether they participate in the grading process or not. 

The Guardian story from Alex Hern quoted extensively from a contractor at a firm hired by Apple to perform part of a Siri quality control process it calls grading. This takes snippets of audio, which are not connected to names or IDs of individuals, and has contractors listen to them to judge whether Siri is accurately hearing them — and whether Siri may have been invoked by mistake.

“We are committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy,” Apple said in a statement to TechCrunch. “While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally. Additionally, as part of a future software update, users will have the ability to choose to participate in grading.”

The contractor claimed that the audio snippets could contain personal information, audio of people having sex and other details like finances that could be identifiable, regardless of the process Apple uses to anonymize the records. 

They also questioned how clear it was to users that their raw audio snippets may be sent to contractors to evaluate in order to help make Siri work better. When this story broke, I dipped into Apple’s terms of service myself and, though there are mentions of quality control for Siri and data being shared, I found that it did fall short of explicitly and plainly making it clear that live recordings, even short ones, are used in the process and may be transmitted and listened to. 

The figures Apple has cited put the amount of queries that may be selected for grading under 1 percent of daily requests.

The process of taking a snippet of audio a few seconds long and sending it to either internal personnel or contractors to evaluate is, essentially, industry standard. Audio recordings of requests made to Amazon and Google assistants are also reviewed by humans. 

An explicit way for users to agree to the audio being used this way is table stakes in this kind of business. I’m glad Apple says it will be adding one. 

It also aligns better with the way that Apple handles other data like app performance data that can be used by developers to identify and fix bugs in their software. Currently, when you set up your iPhone, you must give Apple permission to transmit that data. 

Apple has embarked on a long campaign of positioning itself as the most privacy conscious of the major mobile firms and therefore holds a heavier burden when it comes to standards. Doing as much as the other major companies do when it comes to things like using user data for quality control and service improvements cannot be enough if it wants to maintain the stance and the market edge that it brings along with it.

 


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tvOS gets support for multiple users, Xbox and PlayStation controllers

20:17 | 3 June

Apple talked about the next major release for tvOS, the operating system for the Apple TV. The home screen has been slightly redesigned with autoplaying full screen previews. I hope you’ll be able to disable autoplaying videos as many people already hate those video previews on Netflix.

tvOS will support multiple users so that your “Up Next” queue is personalized to your tastes. It works pretty much like profiles on Netflix and other streaming services. You swipe from the right to open a new Control Center panel.

Apple already announced Apple Arcade, its subscription service for video games. Apple Arcade will also work on the Apple TV. It means that you’ll be able to play 100+ premium games for a flat monthly fee.

Gaming on the Apple TV has always been a bit wonky because there’s no controller in the box. But the next version of tvOS will support two new popular controllers — PlayStation 4 controller and Xbox One controllers.

Finally, there will be a new screensaver with undersea footage. But I’m more excited about controller support to be honest.

 


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Prince Harry is partnering with Oprah Winfrey on Apple TV+ series about mental health

20:37 | 10 April

Prince Harry is the latest big name attached to Apple’s upcoming streaming service, Apple TV+, which was formally introduced last month. According to an announcement published to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s official Instagram account, Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey are co-creators and executive producers on an Apple TV+ docuseries focused on mental health.

“I truly believe that good mental health – mental fitness – is the key to powerful leadership, productive communities and a purpose-driven self,” said Prince Harry, in a statement.

“It is a huge responsibility to get this right as we bring you the facts, the science and the awareness of a subject that is so relevant during these times. Our hope is that this series will be positive, enlightening and inclusive – sharing global stories of unparalleled human spirit fighting back from the darkest places, and the opportunity for us to understand ourselves and those around us better. I am incredibly proud to be working alongside Oprah on this vital series,” he shared.

Oprah’s involvement with Apple TV+ was first announced in June 2018, with news that she signed a multi-year deal to produce original content for Apple’s then still unnamed streaming service.

At Apple’s press event in March, the company brought Winfrey on stage to offer more details about what she had planned. That includes “Toxic Labor,” a documentary that examines the effects of sexual harassment in the workplace, and another untitled multi-part series about mental health.

Prince Harry’s involvement was not mentioned at the time.

However, he has been involved for several months, today’s announcement states.

The series, according to Winfrey, will look at how “the scourge of depression, and anxiety, post-traumatic stress, addiction, trauma, and loss, is just devastating lives daily across the globe.” The show, if it does its job right, aims to replace shame and stigma around mental health issues with “compassion and honesty,” she had said.

The topic of mental health is one Prince Harry has been focused on himself, before agreeing to co-produce the series.

As the announcement explains:

“The dynamic multi-part documentary series will focus on both mental illness and mental wellness, inspiring viewers to have an honest conversation about the challenges each of us faces, and how to equip ourselves with the tools to not simply survive, but to thrive.

This commitment builds on The Duke of Sussex’s long-standing work on issues and initiatives regarding mental health, where he has candidly shared personal experience and advocated for those who silently suffer, empowering them to get the help and support they deserve.”

Winfrey also went on “CBS This Morning” to talk more about mental health, the series, and how she came to partner with Prince Harry on the project.

She had asked him what he thought were the most important issues facing the world, and he had replied with two: climate change and mental health.

“As you know, he’s spoken about his own issues and what he went through after his mother died and how being able to talk about it has benefitted him,” Winfrey told CBS. “It’s a passion of his and at the end of the conversation, I said, ‘Oh, I’m going to be doing this thing with Apple. I said it’s a big concern of mine, too … And I was telling him about this Apple platform and he said at the end of the conversation, ‘If there’s anything I can do to help.’ And I go ‘as a matter of fact…”

The multi-part docuseries still doesn’t have a name, but will arrive in 2020 following the public debut of Apple TV+, scheduled for later this fall. 

 

 


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Digging into Apple’s media transformation

23:06 | 27 March

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch Editor-in-Chief, Matthew Panzarino, offered his analysis on the major announcements that came out of Apple’s keynote event this past Monday.

Behind a series of new subscription and media products, Apple has set the stage for one of the largest transformations in the company’s history. Matthew touches on all of Apple’s major product initiatives including Apple’s new credit card, its push into original content, its subscription gaming platform, and its subscription news service, which features Extra Crunch as one of the debut publications.

“I don’t think many of the things that Apple announced here, on an individual basis, are earth-shattering. I think it shapes up to be a really solid, nice offering for people with some distinct advantages but at the same time it’s not breaking huge molds here. I think the same thing applies across all of the offerings that they put out there.

I just felt that together, it’s solid but not scintillating and we need to see how they develop, how they launch, and then what they do with these platforms…

…Seems relatively straightforward. However, some of the stuff people have glossed over is very intriguing.”

Matthew goes into more detail on why he didn’t view the announcements as individually earth-shattering, and why he sees compelling opportunities for Apple to position its offerings as a symbiotic ecosystem. He also goes under the hood to discuss some of Apple’s overlooked competitive advantages in media and to paint a picture of how Apple’s new product lines might evolve in the long-term.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

 


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The Apple TV app to launch on smart TVs, Roku, Fire TV and computers

21:06 | 25 March

Apple is revamping its Apple TV app with a new offering. But how will you be able to access the service exactly? Apple is launching the Apple TV app on smart TVs from Samsung, LG, Sony and Vizio.

The Samsung app will land first, and other manufacturers will get the Apple TV app this Spring. The app will also be available on Roku and Fire TV devices. And the company is also launching an Apple TV app on macOS this Fall. It’s unclear if you’ll be able to access the service from Android phones, Windows 10 computers, etc.

The Apple TV app has been available in a handful of countries so far. Apple is launching the app in over 100 countries by the end of the year.

The app combines content you can buy and rent in the iTunes Store, subscriptions to premium partners, such as HBO, Starz and Showtime, as well as on-demand offering from cable subscriptions (Spectrum, AT&T, etc.). And of course, Apple is also announcing its own original content subscription, Apple TV+.

The tvOS Apple TV app will arrive in May in a software update. Apple promises not to share your data with other companies.

 


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Apple could charge $9.99 per month each for HBO, Showtime and Starz

21:34 | 24 March

The Wall Street Journal has published a report on Apple’s media push. The company is about to unveil a new video streaming service and an Apple News subscription on Monday.

According to The WSJ, you’ll be able to subscribe to multiple content packages to increase the video library in a new app called Apple TV — it’s unclear if this app is going to replace the existing Apple TV app.

The service would work more or less like Amazon Prime Video Channels. Users will be able to subscribe to HBO, Showtime or Starz for a monthly fee. The WSJ says that these three partners would charge $9.99 per month each.

According to a previous report from CNBC, it differs from the existing Apple TV app as you won’t be redirected to another app. Everything will be available within a single app.

Controlling the experience from start to finish would be a great advantage for users. As many people now suffer from subscription fatigue, Apple would be able to centralize all your content subscriptions in a single app. You could tick and untick options depending on your needs.

But some companies probably don’t want to partner with Apple. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll find Netflix or Amazon Prime Video content in the Apple TV app. Those services also want to control the experience from start to finish. It’s also easier to gather data analytics when subscribers are using your own app.

Apple should open up the Apple TV app to other platforms. Just like you can play music on Apple Music on Android, a Sonos speaker or an Amazon Echo speaker, Apple is working on apps for smart TVs. The company has already launched iTunes Store apps on Samsung TVs, so it wouldn’t be a big surprise.

The company has also spent a ton of money on original content for its own service. Details are still thin on this front. Many of those shows might not be ready for Monday. Do you have to pay to access Apple’s content too? How much? We’ll find out on Monday.

When it comes to Apple News, The WSJ says that content from 200 magazines and newspapers will be available for $9.99 per month. The Wall Street Journal confirms a New York Times report that said that The Wall Street Journal was part of the subscription.

Apple is also monitoring the App Store to detect popular apps according to multiple metrics, The WSJ says. Sure, Apple runs the App Store. But Facebook faced a public outcry when people realized that Facebook was monitoring popular apps with a VPN app called Onavo.

 


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