Apple flexed its wallet today in a way Facebook has been scared to do. Tech giants make money in the billions, not millions, which should give them an easy way to get into premium video distribution – buy must-see content. That’s the strategy I’ve been advocating for Facebook, but one that Apple really took seriously. Tim Cook wrote lines of zeros on some checks, and suddenly Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Oprah became the familiar faces of Apple TV +.
Facebook Watch has… The real world of MTV? The other sister Olsen? Replays of Buffy The Vampire Slayer? In reality, Facebook Watch is dominated by the kind of low-quality viral video memes that the social network announced it would remove from its News Feed for wasting people’s time.
And so while Apple TV + at least has a solid base camp from which to make the uphill climb to compete with Netflix, Facebook Watch feels like it’s tripping over its own two feet.
Today, Apple previewed its new video subscription service that will launch in the fall and will offer unlimited access to old favorites and new exclusives for a monthly fee. However, even without any screenshots or pricing information, Apple was still enthusiastic about posting its big-name content.
Spielberg is making short films from the Amazing Stories anthology that inspired him as a child. Abrams is telling a tale about the rise of a musician named Little Voice Witherspoon and Aniston’s star on The Morning Show about anchoring a news show. Oprah is bringing documentaries on workplace bullying and mental health. Apple even has the Seasame Street gang teaching kids how to code.
This tentative tactic will see Apple try to lure users into a free trial of Apple TV + with this must-have content, and then convince them to stay. And a compelling and unique reason to watch is exactly what is missing from… Facebook Watch. Instead it opted to fund a wide range of reality shorts and documentaries often unscripted that never felt special or anything better than what was openly available on the internet, not to mention what you could get from a subscription. It now claims to have 75 million people watching at least one minute a day, but it hasn’t generated a zeitgeist moment. Even though Facebook has been quick to add syndicated TV cult favorites like Firefly or soccer games to the free and ad-supported video service, it hasn’t signed up for anything really newsworthy.
That won’t fly anymore. Technology has evolved beyond the days when media products could win only based on their design, theoretical virality, or the mass audiences to which they were cross-promoted. We are not hungry for things to see or hear. And if you want us to frequent one more app or sign us up for one more subscription, you’ll need an A-List talent to get us noticed. Netflix has stranger things. HBO has Game Of Thrones. Amazon has the wonderful Mrs. Maisel. Disney + has… Marvel, Star Wars, and princesses. And now Apple has the best directors and actresses in the world.
The video has become a battle of the rich. Apple did not throw any hits. Facebook will have to buy some new fighters if Watch is ever going to deserve a spot in the ring.