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By Daniel Arkin
Apple has officially gone Hollywood.
The tech giant unveiled a new streaming video offering on Monday as part of a wider push into original content and digital services, signaling a new chapter for a company that has long focused on hardware and devices.
At a star-studded event Monday at its headquarters in Cupertino, California, the stage of the Steve Jobs Theater at times looked more like the Emmy Awards than a Silicon Valley product launch.
Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and other A-list names took turns introducing their upcoming original television projects, a display of star power that underlines Apple’s ambition to cut into Netflix’s market share and cultural dominance.
The event was a departure from years past when services such as music and maps were a prelude to major hardware launches. Instead, Apple recently released a few new product iterations with little fanfare. The company’s renewed emphasis on services comes amid lagging sales growth for its marquee consumer product, the iPhone, in large part because it has become more difficult to entice iPhone owners to upgrade to newer models.
Here’s a look at the major announcements, some of which were accompanied by pointed reminders that Apple users’ personal data is private and secure:
- Apple TV+, debuting this fall, is a batch of original shows and movies that thrusts the tech company into the same competitive streaming marketplace as Netflix and Amazon. The offerings previewed at the event included “Amazing Stories,” Spielberg’s reboot of his short-lived anthology series of the same name, and “The Morning Show,” a look at the behind-the-scenes drama at a fictional morning news broadcast co-starring Witherspoon, Aniston and Steve Carell.
- The Apple News+ subscription service now features more than 300 magazines, as well as The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and access to premium digital publications, according to Roger Rosner, the company’s vice president of applications. It costs $9.99 per month.
- The new Apple Card is a payment system that will not charge users any fees. Its users will get 2 percent cash back on purchases and 3 percent cash back on Apple purchases. It is slated to debut on the Wallet app this summer, said Jennifer Bailey, the company’s vice president of internet services.
- The new Apple Arcade is a video game subscription service that will feature more than 100 new and exclusive titles, including releases from acclaimed creators Hironobu Sakaguchi and Ken Wong. Subscribers will pay a monthly fee, but the company did not specify a price.
Apple’s big moves in journalism and personal finance are sure to be key components of its overall business strategy going forward, but the streaming video venture is likely to attract more consumer interest in the short-term.
The company is betting big on high-quality shows and movies as a way to boost device sales and draw more users to its fleet of apps.
But it is also looking to capture some of the cultural power of Netflix and HBO by investing in star talent. The company is reportedly spending around $1 billion on programming that also includes contributions from major directors J.J. Abrams, M. Night Shyamalan and Ron Howard.
In its presentation on Monday, Apple did not specify how much consumers would have to pay for its original content.
But it said the programming will be available in a redesigned Apple TV app that will also give users access to content third-party streaming services and à la carte subscriptions to established cable brands, such as HBO, Showtime and Starz. Netflix was notably absent from the list.
Apple is not the only deep-pocketed player looking to gain a foothold in streaming video, a marketplace dominated by Netflix, which has built up a sprawling library of original and licensed titles on its way to becoming one of the leading global entertainment brands in the world.
Disney plans to launch a service of its own this year, bolstered by a massive library that now includes assets from 21st Century Fox, the film and TV studio it acquired in a $71 billion deal.
AT&T, the owner of HBO and the Warner Bros. film studio, is also rolling out a streaming platform in the months to come centered on popular series like “Game of Thrones.”
Netflix’s $10 billion investment in original content dwarfs that of Apple, but the latter boasts more than 1.4 billion active devices across the globe — a massive built-in audience for its new shows and movies.
Apple’s premium original content unit is led by Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, a pair of veteran executives poached from Sony Pictures Television, the unit behind the massive hit “Breaking Bad.”
It remains to be seen if Apple plans to release its original movies, including an upcoming drama from Sofia Coppola starring Bill Murray, in traditional theaters. Spielberg, who received a standing ovation and sustained applause on the Apple stage Monday, has criticized Netflix for failing to do just that for many of its projects.