Is Apple Getting Serious About Original Content?

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Jimmy Iovine

"They really are trying to figure it all out," says one insider about the company's dive into producing movies and TV shows, starting with the upcoming Dr. Dre series 'Vital Signs.'

After a long courtship with Hollywood, Apple is signaling that it wants a real relationship.

The iPhone maker is exploring producing original television shows and movies to turn its Apple Music subscription service into what Apple executive Jimmy Iovine described Jan. 14 as "an entire cultural, pop cultural experience." Speaking at the Television Critics Association's press tour, he explained: "If South Park walks into my office, I am not going to say, 'You're not musicians,' you know? We're going to do whatever hits popular culture smack on the nose."

His comments came six months after Eddy Cue, the senior vp who oversees Apple Music, iTunes and the Apple TV ecosystem, told THR the company was "not in the business of trying to create TV shows. … We're not trying to compete with Netflix or compete with Comcast."

Instead, Apple is focusing on streaming music rivals like Spotify, which has used its free service as a gateway for 40 million paid subscribers. The $10-per-month Apple Music, meanwhile, has 20 million paid users. Because it doesn't offer free listening as a way to lure subscribers, Apple Music has prioritized exclusives and additive programming, such as a Taylor Swift tour documentary and the Vice docuseries The Score. "We're fighting 'free,'" noted Iovine. "So a simple utility where, 'Here's all the songs, here's all the music, give me $10 and we're cool,' is not going to scale."

Spotify has recognized the need for exclusive content, too, mixing some original web series with clips from partners like ESPN and MTV. But Apple, the most valuable company in the world with a market cap nearing $640 billion, has the resources to mount a serious offensive.

To date, Apple's video play — led by Cue, Iovine and L.A.-based content vp Robert Kondrk — has been centered on projects aligned with its core businesses. The company is working with Ben Silverman and Howard Owens' Propagate Content on reality series Planet of the Apps and has ordered 16 episodes of Late Late Show spinoff Carpool Karaoke. Its first scripted series is Vital Signs, a drama about Dr. Dre, who along with Iovine sold Beats Electronics to Apple for $3 billion in 2014.

Apple has eyed Hollywood before. The company, as sales of its iPhones and other hardware mature, has increasingly explored its media opportunities, at one time considering a live TV service and more recently launching a new television viewing guide for Apple TV owners — something Cue hinted at when he told THR that the problem with TV "is the way that we end up consuming it."

But even as Apple begins to court more ambitious fare, its exact mandate appears to be undefined. One insider, who suggested that Apple is waiting to release the Dre project Vital Signs until it has a more concrete overall content strategy, notes: "They really are trying to figure it all out."

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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