Only a few hours before Apple senior vp Eddy Cue took the stage at SXSW in Austin, the content and software executive made some news. Apple had decided to buy magazine subscription startup Texture from its group of publisher owners.
“They have some incredible content, content that takes a lot of time to create,” Cue explained to a ballroom full of attendees at the annual technology, film and music festival. He added that Texture has been popular for iPad users because of the way the magazine articles are displayed. “We’re really excited about bringing that into Apple News.”
Cue went on to explain that Apple’s goal with its News app is “about curation. We want the best articles, we want them to look amazing, and we want them to be from trusted sources.”
Although much has been made of Facebook and Google’s efforts to build news products, Apple News has quickly become a powerful distribution tool for publishers. Cue revealed onstage that for some publishing partners, Apple already accounts for between 60 percent and 70 percent of articles that are read across the web. “We’ve become a pretty decent-sized player in a short amount of time,” he said.
Cue sat down with CNN’s Dylan Byers for a conversation that began with Apple News and wound its way to Apple’s content ambitions, Cue’s thoughts on the role of technology in people’s lives and competition from Spotify.
Hollywood has been abuzz about Apple’s entertainment plans in recent months as the company has begun to ramp up its efforts in the space. After years of denying that Apple wanted to make original programming, the company made an about face last year and released two series, reality show Planet of the Apps and Late Late Show spinoff Carpool Karaoke. Seeing an opportunity to move further into original production, Cue hired Sony TV veterans Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht to lead worldwide video for the company. Onstage on Monday, Cue revealed that he had been looking for someone for that job for two years before he brought Van Amburg and Erlicht on board. He explained that he wanted someone who “really knew the business but was also willing to think about it differently.”
Since their hiring last summer, the duo have been furiously buying up projects. So far, Apple has about a dozen projects in development, from a Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon morning show drama to a Ronald D. Moore space drama. Cue revealed on Monday that Apple’s worldwide video team is now about 40-people strong and has begun to expand into international hiring. “We’re building what I think is an incredibly talented, capable team.”
But a lot of questions remain, including how Apple will release this content to users. (Will it be exclusive to iPhones? Or perhaps a TV service that is wrapped into Apple Music?) As per usual for executives from the notoriously secretive company, Cue was tight lipped about future plans at the company. Though Byers tried to get Cue to say whether he would be interested in buying a Netflix or Disney, he would not say definitively. Instead, he noted, “Look, the good news is that both Netflix and Disney are great partners of ours and have been with us from the very beginning.”
He went on to explain that Apple traditionally hasn’t made many large acquisitions because, in the words of Wayne Gretzky, “you have to skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is.”
But, Cue made clear that Apple is “all in” on entertainment content. “We’re completely all in,” he said, adding that there’s a difference between what Apple is doing and Netflix’s strategy. “We’re not after quantity. We’re after quality. We don’t try to sell the most smartphones in the world, we don’t try to sell the most tablets. We try to make the best ones. Great storytelling is what’s important.”
Asked whether the future of content would be in the kind of premium, shortform programming that Jeffrey Katzenberg is looking to create at New TV, Cue said no. “I don’t think two-to-eight minutes is where the puck is going,” he said. “I think YouTube has taught us that. I don’t think you can tell stories like Game of Thrones in two-to-eight minutes.”
Cue also fielded a question about Apple’s decision to keep NRATV in its Apple TV app store. “We draw a set of guidelines that are published so everyone in the world can read them,” he explained, adding that Apple does draw the line with apps that allow people to buy and sell guns, show animal cruelty or display violence against people.
As Cue’s hour onstage drew to a close, Byers asked him about competition from Spotify, which recently announced that it will go public. The streaming music company has over 70 million subscribers, nearly double the size of Apple Music. But Cue wouldn’t engage in talk of competition. “It’s about artists — how do they get their music to everyone around the world and how do they get compensated for that,” he said. “We both have to grow by significant amounts in order to get to the numbers that it should.”