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The morning after the Golden State Warriors earned a spot in the NBA Finals, it was Eddy Cue — caught on camera celebrating with Stephen Curry from his courtside seat — whose face was splashed across the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. That moment signaled just how far Cue has come in his 27 years at Apple. Once an under-the-radar dealmaker, Cue, 51, has become one of the more prominent executives at the world’s most valuable company (now worth more than $520 billion) as it grows its media business. The key lieutenant of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has been a rare content-minded executive at a 110,000-employee company that has prioritized its devices. As iPhone sales have slowed, Apple has turned its attention to Hollywood. And the man who spent many years warming music labels to the idea of iTunes has, in the past two years, spearheaded Apple’s $3 billion acquisition of Beats Electronics, overseen the launch of Apple Music, orchestrated a redesign of the Apple TV and sparked speculation that Apple someday will buy a studio or launch a streaming TV business.
Cue brushes off questions about his Hollywood aspirations (he and Apple won’t comment on reports Apple wants to buy Jay Z’s Tidal streaming service), but there’s no denying the Miami-born exec is behind the company’s recent original programming efforts. Starting with a Taylor Swift tour documentary designed to entertain Apple Music’s 15 million subscribers, Apple also is experimenting with series, including a show about apps with producer Ben Silverman, called Planet of the Apps, and a scripted drama from Apple employee Dr. Dre that Cue won’t confirm (“I’ve heard that he’s been filming in L.A.,” he says).
A son of Cuban immigrants, Cue — married with three children, including two adult sons who now work in tech — is defined as much by Apple as he is by his love of Duke basketball, rock music and expensive cars. He invited THR to his sports memorabilia-adorned office in Cupertino, Calif., to reveal what he learned about Hollywood from Jobs, why TV distribution is broken and to whom he turns for advice.
Why is Apple placing such an emphasis on media?
We all consume and love the stuff that Hollywood does. We just didn’t always love it in the way that they got it to us. So, what we could do is really make it easier for their customers, their fans, to be able to consume content in a much better way. There’s huge opportunities.
Is your goal with Apple TV to replace the cable box?
It’s a lot better box than a cable box. It gives content providers the ability to do things that are interactive, which they’ve never had. Now, whether it replaces the cable box or not — who knows?
Will we see an Apple skinny bundle or live-TV streaming service?
Whether we’re providing it or somebody else is, it really doesn’t matter to us. What we’re trying to do is build the platform that allows anybody to get content to consumers. If a Time Warner [Cable] or a DirecTV wants to offer a bundle themselves, they should do it through Apple TV and iPad and iPhone. As a matter of fact, I’m not a big fan of the skinny bundle.
I think it’s a misconception. Most people, at the end of the day, end up paying more, not less, for the things they love. With TV content being at an all-time high, why are people asking for less? It has a lot to do with the way it’s being provided. If I feel like I’m not getting my money’s worth, then I want to pay less and I want less things. But if it were being provided in a rich platform with the capabilities I’m talking about, I don’t think people would feel that way. People pay for Netflix as an add-on to TV, and they’re happy doing it. And why is that? Because they’re happy with what they’re getting from Netflix. So the question to ask about skinny bundles is, why are customers not happy?
So, why aren’t they happy?
They’re not getting the features that they want. The fact that I have to set things to record seems idiotic. And channel guides — I get home and I want to watch a Duke basketball game; why do I have to go hunting to find out what channel it’s on? Why can’t I just say, “I want to watch Duke basketball.” Or, even better, why doesn’t the system know that? “Here’s the Duke basketball game.” Those technical capabilities exist today. They just don’t exist for television.
In 10 years, how will we be watching TV?
TV is made up of three things. One is the actual, physical TV set. Obviously, in the last 10 years, the amount of innovation that’s happened on the TV is incredible. If you look at the content side of the business, it’s never been better. The quality of TV, I think, is at an all-time high. The problem with it is the way that we end up consuming it — generally a cable box. A satellite receiver is, to me, nothing more than a glorified VCR. And so I think there’s huge opportunities in that space because people now want to watch on their phones, they want to watch on their iPads, and they want to watch on their TVs.
How have your conversations with Hollywood executives evolved over time?
It started with Steve [Jobs]. When I met Steve, he was running Pixar and Apple at the same time. So I learned to appreciate and learn a little bit more about how that side of the business worked. And I think it gave me and Apple just a great level of appreciation of how hard it is to do what they do. There’s been a lack of appreciation, honestly, of the level of skill and talent that it takes to do what each side does. The relationships have gotten better and better because, over the years, the fear of Silicon Valley has gone away and now we’ve had these working relationships for a long time.
What are the similarities between the industries?
One thing that doesn’t get talked about is that if you actually look at it from the core of the creator — let’s say the person writing the script — versus a programmer, the similarities are actually much higher than people think. At the end of the day when you’re writing code, you start with a blank screen, and when you’re writing a script you start with a blank piece of paper. You need to be creative, so the process is actually somewhat similar. But for some reason people haven’t looked at it that way.
How much time do you spend in Los Angeles?
This is not new, but I’ve been going there probably five times, six times a month. I’ve been going a little more often since we did Apple Music, because we now have a much larger team in L.A. But I don’t even think of going to L.A. as a trip. It’s like a normal day at work because I can fly there in the morning and back at night.
To whom do you go for advice in Hollywood?
I’ve had a long relationship with Bob Iger. He’s amazing, and we’re lucky that we’ve got him on the board [of directors] now. We’ve met people like Brian Grazer and J.J. Abrams — incredible individuals that have accomplished a great deal. But what I love more is they’ve already had all these successes, but they’re on to the next thing, and they’re as charged up and as motivated and excited about doing the new things. That’s how I feel about Apple and what we try to do.
It’s still very unclear what Apple plans to do in the original content space.
We are only going into the content business [with projects] that we think are really tied to our products. Right now, that’s Apple Music. The rest of it is about giving [talent] a platform that allows them to be creative in new ways. If I was an agent, I would be very, very excited about what Apple is doing because it lets the people that I represent be able to do more.
So if an agent came to you with a show pack-aged with a big star, you wouldn’t take it?
Probably not right now. We’re not in the business of trying to create TV shows. If we see it being complementary to the things we’re doing at Apple Music or if we see it being something that’s innovative on our platform, we may help them and guide them and make suggestions. But we’re not trying to compete with Netflix or compete with Comcast.
But you have the app show with Silverman, so how does that fit into your strategy?
It’s his show, but we felt we could help. We felt like there were things that he wanted to do in the show that, if we helped him with it, it would be way better or only possible if we did it. And that’s the reason we got involved, because we actually think we bring something to the table.
And what about the Dr. Dre show?
We’ve got nothing to announce, so there’s nothing to say about it at this point. But Dre is an amazingly talented individual and he’s always working on projects — from a radio show to a new album. It’s great to have somebody as talented as him working with us. It’s exciting.
Will Apple buy a Hollywood studio? And if not, why not?
That’s the great thing about Apple, it’s very focused on the things that we know how to do very well and not try to extend ourselves to areas that we know very little about or don’t have a lot of expertise in. So when we look at a studio, for example — this was discussed for why didn’t we buy a music label with iTunes — I’m not sure why we should do that. We’re always looking at things that come to us that make us better at things that we want to do or are doing. It’s not that we’ll never do anything, but I’m not sure why [we should] buy a studio. We like the fact that we’re working with all the studios.
There have been reports that you spearheaded acquisition talks with Time Warner. What was your pitch?
Look, I read [the reports,] too. In general, there’s always a lot of speculation across many different companies, and some of that relates to the fact that we have a lot of money and so, therefore, we can afford to make acquisitions. So we have a lot of discussions with [Time Warner], but I don’t want to speculate. We’re not — at this point, certainly — actively trying to buy any studio.
How do you make Apple Music stand out against Spotify and other competitors?
It can’t be about a service that’s just providing the songs, because anybody can do that. It starts by the level of integration that we have within our product. Second of all, we do a lot of curation. Third is radio. The internet radio that you see are really long playlists. We’ve been trying to do live radio where you have actual DJs that are telling you the history, the things that are going on with an artist or with a song.
Where does Apple stand in the music industry’s fight on digital copyright law?
I don’t want to talk specifically to the requests. But I do know that we agree 100 percent with artists that they should have the right to decide where their content is available — whether it’s free or when it’s free, when it should be paid or how much it should cost. We’ve always, from day one, felt that this is their content and they should decide how they want to make it available.
What do you want to be remembered for at Apple?
I bleed Apple. The products themselves is what should be remembered, and, yes, I, along with my team, have been a part of that. So I hope that we’re making game-changing products that people just love to use.
A version of this story first appeared in the July 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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