Apple Commits a Small Fraction of Its Billions to Original TV Shows

Expect more of this. Photo: CBSTelevision Studios

As it continues to try to build up its all-encompassing “services” product sector, Apple is committing a billion dollars to original programming, The Wall Street Journal reports. That number, and Apple’s original-content strategy thus far, is proving confusing, in part because a billion dollars is in this case not a ton of money. The report’s sources estimate that Apple could invest in ten new series in the next year.

Sure, to pretty much anyone else, a billion dollars is a ton of money, but as of May, Apple was sitting on nearly $257 billion in cash. As the Journal points out, a billion is “about half what Time Warner Inc.’s HBO spent on content last year and on par with estimates of what Inc. spent in 2013, the year after it announced its move into original programming.” In 2017, Netflix is spending $6 billion on original programming, and Amazon is estimated to be investing $4.5 billion in its own initiative (Netflix also apparently has $20 billion in long-term debt).

Apple, which is about a half-decade behind its competitors in the race for first-party content and sits on a incomparable cash hoard, is dipping its pinkie toe into the pool. It is brow-furrowing when you look at the back-of-the-envelope math.

At the same time, Apple will have a much harder time reconciling an effort to create premium, HBO-like content with a brand that is, historically, strictly controlled. It’s difficult to imagine Apple’s cutesy, most-ages vibe matched up with a Game of Thrones-like show. Its two original initiatives thus far — the muddled Planet of the Apps and the transposed Carpool Karaoke — have been duds.

Apple is also in a unique position as the only one of these companies that makes hardware. Can you imagine the company funding a television production in which people use Android phones and Windows PCs? Apple’s neutral branding may work for selling neutral hardware and software, but it doesn’t work for cultural output with even a modicum of complexity.

Apple Commits a Billion Dollars to Making Original TV Shows