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This story first appeared in the Feb. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Apple’s efforts to break into the streaming video business have received most of the industry buzz, but it’s actually Apple Music that could benefit the most from the technology giant’s first scripted TV series.
THR revealed Feb. 12 that Apple is bankrolling an edgy, semiautobiographical project from one of its own executives, Beats Electronics co-founder Dr. Dre. Vital Signs, from veteran music video director Paul Hunter and writer Robert Munic (Empire), is planned as six half-hour episodes, each focused on a different emotion that Dre’s character experiences. It likely will be distributed via Apple’s $9.99-a-month music streaming service.
The move to bolster programming for the 7-month-old service comes after Apple spent the better part of 2015 in talks with TV networks about creating a “skinny” programming bundle that it would stream to subscribers. But those talks have stalled, and BTIG media analyst Richard Greenfield believes Vital Signs “is simply adding more value to a music platform that faces ever more fierce competition.” An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.
Apple bowed Music in June 2015 as the race for streaming supremacy heated up. The service has amassed more than 11 million subscribers but faces stiff competition from the likes of Spotify, Pandora and Google’s new YouTube Music service.
Apple Music began experimenting with exclusive video with the December release of Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour documentary and has committed to a show from Snapchat star DJ Khaled. But it’s not alone: Spotify in January launched a video channel with content from Vice News, ESPN and MTV. Whether Vital Signs will become part of a larger original programming effort is unclear, although sources say Apple executive Jimmy Iovine — who, with Dre, sold Beats to Apple in 2014 for $3 billion — has taken meetings about other originals.
Video programming on Music could impact Apple’s other businesses. It works on new Apple TVs, which means subscribers might need to cough up $149 for the set-top box to watch Dre’s oeuvre. And it could be what Apple needs to jump-start larger content goals. Notes Northlake Capital Management’s Steven Birenberg: “A few originals would help Apple try to build an Apple TV business.”
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