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The TV streaming landscape is about to become even more complicated

Reese Witherspoon, left, and Jennifer Aniston at the launch of Apple’s streaming service. Photo/Getty Images
If you love the renaissance of TV drama, you could be subscribing to four or more video-streaming services by the middle of the year.

The long-awaited debut of Apple’s Netflix rival, Apple TV+, in the next few months will come with TV shows, movies and documentaries produced by big names, including Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams and Oprah Winfrey.

As late as Apple is to the streaming game, technically the service will have the company’s sheen of quality and a model of content delivery that could point the way forward in an increasingly complicated TV market.

In addition to delivering a package of shows as part of a basic app-managed subscription on smart TVs, iPhones, iPads and Macs, Apple TV+ will have channels of content that subscribers can pick from and pay separately for, in a similar model to Sky TV’s service. Channel partners will include the likes of HBO, Showtime and Starz, which are making some of the most popular shows on TV.

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But Sky’s dominance in pay TV may prove the undoing of Apple TV+ for New Zealand viewers. Sky already carries shows from those three big TV studios on an exclusive basis, so Apple TV+ is unlikely to arrive with all, if any, of them. US viewers will get full access.

The shows Apple produces itself will prop up the service, which will probably cost $10 to $15 a month, similar to the other video-streaming offerings. They include Netflix, Neon, Lightbox, Stuff Pix and Amazon Prime, for which 2degrees has just started offering a 12-month subscription free on its unlimited broadband plan.

Each platform has one or two great shows that hook you into subscribing, accompanied by a large collection of low-budget shows or reruns you will probably never watch. As more streaming players arrive – Disney will be next with its own service – we are having to juggle an ever-increasing number of subscriptions just to access the handful of shows we want to watch.

Apple’s other new subscription service, News+, promises to cut through the clutter for newspaper and magazine subscribers. It will expand on its free news app to curate articles from 300 publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Vogue and National Geographic, for a US$10-a-month subscription.

But that subscription app doesn’t appear to be destined for New Zealand any time soon, although Australia will get it later in the year. It would offer Apple users an easier way to support a range of local publishers in an era of declining newspaper circulation, so its arrival here would be welcomed.

It’s an underwhelming set of developments for Kiwi fans of Apple products, due to the quirks of content rights and the small size of our market. But there’s no doubt as to why Apple is launching new subscription services now.

Sales of iPhones, the glory products in the Apple line-up, are flagging. Apple needs to look to services rather than hardware to expand. That’s why it took on Spotify in the music-streaming market in 2015. Four years on, Apple Music has more than 50 million paying subscribers, about half that of Spotify.

But it will cost billions of dollars for Apple to compete with Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The race to be No 1 in streaming music and videos has delivered us a glut of great content, with Netflix and Spotify deserving credit for shaking those markets up. But it is now causing us headaches as we try to manage our credit-card subscriptions.

Apple TV+ is meant to make that easier, but in New Zealand, the TV streaming landscape is about to get even more complicated.

This article was first published in the April 20, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.