5 Years Later, Apple’s Wild Bid to Be a Streaming Giant Has Actually Paid Off

The home of Ted Lasso, Severance, and CODA didn’t always seem like a sure bet.

Lais Borges/Inverse; Apple

Whether Apple TV+ is actually the new HBO is a tricky question.

When Wired put forward the idea earlier in 2024, it had a certain truth to it. Since its launch five years ago, Apple has produced critical darlings, won Emmys for Ted Lasso, a Best Picture Oscar for CODA, and generally allowed strange concepts to flourish on its streaming service. If there are any sure bets in the streaming industry, it’s that Apple still has billions to spend on new shows and movies, and doesn’t seem particularly interested in slowing down. And yet, whether Apple TV+ is similar to the home of iconic series like The Sopranos or Succession matters less than if it can maintain the general sense of goodwill it’s generated.

When it launched five years ago in 2019, Apple TV+ did not seem like a sure bet. Sure, Apple had money to spend, but getting stars to make a few exclusives does not make a successful streaming platform. Just ask Quibi. Apple TV+’s success was as much a combination of developing the right shows at the right time as it was leveraging the tight control Apple had over all the screens where its streaming service would be easiest to watch. As the streaming service barrels towards its first decade, the only things that might stand in its way are the allure of advertising and whether Apple’s attempts to juice its own subscription services are fair to customers.

Spielberg, Oprah, and Jennifer Anniston in the Same App

Apple got Oprah to cosign it’s streaming service, which is not a small gesture by any means.


Apple got Steven Spielberg, Oprah, and Jennifer Anniston to sell its new subscription service. Looking back, the strangeness of the March 2019 press conference Apple held to introduce a suite of new services (Apple News+, the Apple Card, Apple Arcade, and Apple TV+) is what stands out. The company trotted out a parade of big bames that were either developing or starring in projects for its streaming service, but didn’t show a single full trailer of what those shows would look like. If there was anything that gave people pause about the company’s foray into entertainment, it was probably that.

That Apple’s original slate was so out of left field, including a drama about morning news anchors (The Morning Show), a post-apocalyptic show about a future where no one can see (See), and a comedy built around a character originally created for soccer ads (Ted Lasso), probably didn’t help either. But as those shows actually started to come out, some of that initial skepticism was proven wrong. The Morning Show wasn’t revolutionary, but its taste for melodrama and the decision to make nearly all of its characters power-hungry journalists certainly kept things interesting. Ted Lasso’s disarming warmth hit just right in the early days of the pandemic, even if it started to spin its wheels in later seasons. Horror series Servant and science fiction epic For All Mankind might not have gotten the publicity of Apple’s shows but both became bona fide genre hits with multiple seasons under their belts.

Apple’s quality programming was helped by an aggressive campaign to get customers to try its streaming service. The company bundled a free, year-long subscription with the purchase of basically any new Apple device through July 21, 2021. Apple also leveraged on-device notifications to direct customers to Apple TV+, essentially advertising its own service in the Settings app — something competitors like Netflix or Max would never be able to do. Not to say Apple TV+ was particularly expensive, either. At just $4.99 at launch (it now costs $9.99 at the time of this publishing), Apple drastically undercut basically all other streaming services. In many ways, the deck was stacked in Apple’s favor.

TV Shows That Are TV Shows, Movies That Are Movies

Apple pays for stars, but it’s all in service of solid genre storytelling.


More than some good shows, Apple TV+’s approach to television and film programming seems firmly planted in the strategies that worked before the world caught streaming madness. Apple TV+ has its fair share of streaming fodder, but its best shows, whether Severance or Slow Horses, feel like they’d be at home on FX or AMC during television’s Golden Age. Apple’s also not afraid to allow a promising show a season or two to find its feet, which makes sense for a multi-trillion-dollar tech company that probably doesn’t sweat budgets as much as media companies that only have their hit shows to rely on.

Apple has courted master filmmakers in the same way that Netflix does, but unlike Netflix, it's actually given films like Killers of the Flower Moon and Napoleon traditional theatrical releases thanks to partnerships with studios like Universal and Columbia Pictures. When Apple claims its films make money, even when they don’t earn back their budgets, it’s that Apple is making money from ticket sales and on-demand rentals, something that would never happen if those films were dumped straight onto streaming. It hasn’t yet produced an Oppenheimer-scale success, but as long as good movies are making it to theaters, no one’s complaining.

Apple TV+ has also cultivated a pretty unique catalog of science fiction programming, adapting classic books like Foundation, propping up original ideas like Severance, and developing new shows based on modern hits, like Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter. The source could be some combination of bottomless pockets and what some showrunners describe as a company culture committed to the positive potential of technology, but whatever the reason, Apple TV+ has become the de facto home for sci-fi.

A Heavy Hand

Unfortunately, the qualities of Apple that have made it from the outside appear to be a seemingly good streaming service steward might also be what turns audiences against it. In 2020, The New York Times reported the company was prudishly hands-on with its productions. It outright canceled a show based on the trials and tribulations of the website Gawker and shut down a Dr. Dre biopic because of its use of violence and nudity, seemingly because Apple was afraid of courting controversy. Most recently, Apple canceled The Problem with Jon Stewart in 2023 over planned stories on China, artificial intelligence, and the upcoming election — subjects that were “causing concern among Apple executives,” according to The New York Times. As Business Insider notes, the company is also aggressively exploring what could be an ad-supported version of Apple TV+, despite touting the service's lack of ads at launch.

Combine all that with increased scrutiny from U.S. and European regulators, and the next five years of Apple TV+ could look very different than the last. We won’t know until it happens, but at the very least Apple has proved that you can be a tech company with taste. All you need is a lot of money, direct control over billions of pocket televisions, and patience.

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