Subscribe to Breaking News emails

You have successfully subscribed to the Breaking News email.

Subscribe today to be the first to to know about breaking news and special reports.

Q&A with digital media expert Matthew Ball on Apple's original content push

by Daniel Arkin /

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

Matthew Ball, a digital media analyst and former head of strategy at Amazon Studios, is one of the leading thinkers on the future of television. He has written extensively on the subject for ReDef, an influential site for media executives and tech insiders, and on his closely watched Twitter feed.

Ball says he has thought a lot about Apple's foray into original television shows, and he's skeptical the tech giant is looking to simply mimic popular streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. Ball says he expects that the company's push for original TV shows is actually part of a far more ambitious, wide-reaching business strategy.

He recently shared his predictions with NBC News. Here is that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

NBC News: Apple has inked deals with Oprah, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon — A-list talent. But it seems we still know very little about the streaming product itself.

Certainly. We know nothing about how it will be distributed, released, monetized, why Apple is interested in the area in the first place, or where they see the market opportunity.

That said, we can read a lot into what they're not doing — no catalogue licensing, no movies, and only a dozen U.S.-originated original [shows] are likely to be released annually, at least to start.

They are not building a Netflix competitor, nor are they likely to be building a more modestly priced standalone service.

Image: Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces the New Apple TV on September 9, 2015 in San Francisco, California.Stephen Lam / Getty Images file

Why the apparent secrecy or vagueness?

Apple is a particularly secretive company, and I see no compelling reason to provide more transparency in this case. In fact, being more transparent may cost them in various partner negotiations — and not just in video — and enable the company's competitors to better prepare for Apple's entry.

It's better to launch the product to success, then leverage the momentum. It's true their opacity may dissuade some content partners, but Apple has such a brand halo and content distribution bona fides that few would be entirely discouraged by the company's secrecy.

Notably, Netflix — despite years of experience in licensing content — struggled to secure original content deals in their early years. Amazon, too, struggled as it was then seen as just an e-commerce store. Apple doesn't need to prove or explain themselves to Hollywood agents or stars.

What do you expect will be the business model?

I expect [Apple's original content] to be part of a broader Apple subscription service that bundles the likes of Apple Music, iCloud, AppleCare, Texture [a news subscription app the company recently acquired], and can be added on, at a discount, to their incipient device subscription plans.

This will drive adoption of each of these services, many of which are fundamentally undifferentiated from competing products, add customer stickiness and drive additional hardware sales, which is the company's core business.

It will also discourage mostly Apple households from adding the occasional Google or Amazon product to their homes. I don't believe Apple is fighting for the same revenue as Netflix, nor Amazon, per se. It is about using an incredibly popular and valuable content category to reinforce Apple's overall ecosystem.

Image: Apple 2nd quarter 2016 results
Paul Miller / EPA file

What do you expect will be the brand identity of the product? Disney and HBO connote specific ideas. What about Apple's content?

Apple is looking to communicate a video brand that closely resembles their overall brand — one focused on only a handful of products, each of which are outstanding quality, highly marketable and target everyone.

We see this in their decisions to exclusively buy big-budget shows, their focus on [intellectual property]-related titles or mass market concepts, and their decisions to hire only best-in-class writers and actors.

How quickly do you think the product will gain a foothold?

This depends on when they launch it, how they launch it, and the quality of the content — none of which we know.

However, Apple Music has shown that Apple can thrive even when late to market and competing in a fundamentally undifferentiated category, and with a worse product.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
MORE FROM news