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Apple TV Plus needs more than one big show at a time to beat Netflix

Foundation
(Image credit: Apple)

What defines a great streaming service for you? I'm currently UK-based, and I'm subscribed to Netflix, Now TV, Amazon Prime and Mubi. Through work, I have access to HBO Max, Hulu and Disney Plus. The first three, though, are the services I land on first when I turn on my PS4 every night (and I mean every night right now). 

The reason I always prioritize these services is that I feel confident I can depend on them to give me something to watch, or I'm already halfway through something I'd like to finish. 

Apple TV Plus, meanwhile, is a service I've only tried for one week so far. I got the 7-day free trial so I could burn through the (excellent) Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet, a decision which I don't regret whatsoever. And I recently considered subscribing again to check out the documentary Beastie Boys Story and Central Park, a new animated series from the creator of Bob's Burgers. The ongoing lack of an Apple TV app for PS4 means it's not as convenient as watching those other services, though. And collectively, these offerings aren't quite enough to make me feel like I need to drop £4.99 to see them. 

After all, like everyone, I'm at capacity for streaming services right now in terms of how much time I have to invest in TV shows. And while Apple has done a great job at drip-feeding new series onto Apple TV Plus, these big-budget shows offer only a momentary reason to subscribe. Keeping me engaged is a lot harder. If I can trim a monthly fee, I'll happily do it. 

That's why a big new sci-fi series like Foundation, the Isaac Asimov adaptation that Apple showed off during WWDC, only makes me sort of excited about the service. That's despite having an amazing cast, including Jarred Harris and Lee Pace, and source material with a lot of potential.

Apple seems to be figuring out how to build its platform for the long-term, though. A Bloomberg report from May suggested it's looking into acquiring older TV shows, which is a massive missing piece for Apple TV Plus right now. The service is entirely built on the back of original shows like The Morning Show, See and Defending Jacob, and building an archive of those will take a long time. 

By contrast, the recent launch of HBO Max had the opposite problem to Apple: the service has a very deep archive of popular older shows, but is lacking original shows that are worth getting excited about. 

Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu have thrived because they've found a balance between the two approaches. Watching older shows makes for great comfort viewing to a lot of people, but cool new series are what get us talking. 

Apple has the resources to offer both to subscribers, if it wants to. Apple TV Plus has reached tens of millions of users, according to analytics firms – but it hasn't given us one massive, attention-grabbing series yet, like a Tiger King or The Mandalorian. 

Coming attractions

You might be surprised by how much cool stuff Apple TV Plus has in the works. Foundation is very promising, but a lot more new shows and movies are coming up, alongside second seasons of series like Mythic Quest and The Morning Show.

Apple recently teamed up with Martin Scorsese to make his next picture, Killers of the Flower Moon with Leonardo DiCaprio, which is its biggest move yet into the world of film. 

Apple TV Plus also has a feature partnership with movie label A24 (think The Lighthouse, Moonlight and Under the Skin), which will yield the upcoming Sofia Coppola movie On the Rocks, as well as Sharper starring Julianne Moore and an adaptation of the book The Sky is Everywhere. 

Apple is making a miniseries about actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr starring Gal Gadot. It's also teamed up with Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd and Wet Hot American Summer director Michael Showalter to make a series called The Shrink Next Door. The kids' series Fraggle Rock is even being brought back on Apple TV Plus.  

Clearly, Apple is prepared to splash out for big names and big stars, which largely follows the template of how the service has operated since launch. 

Still, it'd be nice to see Apple make the kind of big bet that Netflix did when it acquired the rights to Seinfeld, or Amazon Prime did in offering a near-complete archive of Bond movies. 

No one expects Apple TV Plus to compare to a juggernaut like HBO Max – it's a third of the price per month, for one, and this is still new territory for the electronics giant – and a more curated-feeling service isn't a bad thing. 

The big originals should do the talking. But I still think that it needs a lot more than that to truly find its identity, and for us to figure out how it fits into our TV streaming service lifestyles.