Apple TV+ Signals Its Awards Ambitions

Steven Spielberg-March 25 2019-Apple-Getty-H 2019
Michael Short/Getty Images

Steven Spielberg touting Amazing Stories onstage during Apple's March 25 event. 

As Apple unveiled its new streaming service Apple TV+ on Monday, the tech giant also signaled its Hollywood awards ambitions — not just by who was onstage at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California, but also by who was in the audience. Among the attendees were a handful of Hollywood awards correspondents (myself included); five members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., who vote for the Golden Globe Awards; and Apple's own in-house awards strategist. 

How serious of an awards player will Apple TV+ be? Siri may not have all the answers yet. The live-streamed media event, which introduced a wave of new Apple offerings, was short on specifics about Apple TV+, such as exactly when in the fall it will launch and how much it will cost. But it offered a taste of an ambitious programming slate, complete with big-name talent, which can be expected to compete for awards recognition in the near future with other streamers like Netflix (The Crown), Amazon (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and Hulu (The Handmaid's Tale).

At the moment, Apple appears to be primarily focused on content that would be eligible for TV awards. Shows that were spotlighted with appearances by their creators and stars included Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories; Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon's The Morning Show; Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard's See; Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon's Little America; J.J. Abrams and Sara BareillesLittle Voices; and several Oprah Winfrey-produced documentary programs. (It is all coming together under the oversight of Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, who lead Apple Worldwide Video.)

But it's easy to imagine that Apple, like its fellow streamers, will eventually venture into the world of films — indeed, it's already in business with both A24 and Cartoon Saloon, although that wasn’t mentioned at Monday’s gathering. Therefore, it was somewhat ironic that Spielberg was the first Hollywood luminary asked to take a bow during the presentation since, in recent weeks, he has reportedly been leading the charge to keep movies that don't get full-fledged theatrical releases, like those from Netflix, out of Oscar contention. (Apple's own interface for its TV+ looks quite similar to that of Netflix.) Monday's appearance by Spielberg prompted some murmurs questioning his motives for challenging Netflix; others suggested that his association with Apple could actually be a positive for Netflix, since he may now be less inclined to speak out against streamers.

Don’t look for Apple to launch a 'For Your Consideration' push ahead of the 71st Emmys on Sept. 22 — Apple TV+ intends to launch its first batch of content in the fall, by which time Emmy nominations will have already been announced. (Many outlets have already begun to roll out their Emmy campaigns — for instance, NBC just toasted This Is Us at the San Vicente Bungalows on Sunday, with creator Dan Fogelman and stars Sterling K. Brown, Susan Kelechi Watson and Phylicia Rashad on hand to mingle with tastemakers.)

But Apple TV+ can reasonably be expected to make its first concerted awards push in the final months of 2019, just in time to potentially register for recognition in the TV categories at the 77th Golden Globe Awards (which will take place Jan. 5), the 26th SAG Awards (Jan. 26) and various other guild and industry honors. Its first at bat at the Emmys would then come in the fall of 2020.

Among those in the Cupertino audience was Ralph Galvan, the former publicity director of awards strategy for the Disney-ABC Television Group who, since January, has been employed as an awards lead at Apple Worldwide Video; and some of the voters Apple TV+ is likely to be courting before long: five key members of the HFPA, which votes to determine the Golden Globe Awards, including president Meher Tatna.

Even if the star-studded Apple TV+ launch was short on detail, it was, like the launch of the various iterations of the iPhone and other Apple products over the years, extremely polished and promising. And given Apple’s famously high standards and deep pockets, its eventual awards impact should not be underestimated.