November marked the launch of new streaming service Apple TV+, with a slate of new original shows that included The Morning Show, See, Dickinson, For All Mankind, Helpsters, Ghost Writer and Snoopy in Space; then followed up in the weeks to follow with originals Servant, Truth Be Told and one episode of Oprah interviewing an author. They even threw a few movies in there like The Elephant Queen and Hala, and up until December had planned on releasing The Banker starring Samuel L. Jackson, only to shelve the film after drama occurred around the film and the original subjects featured in said film.
Not such a great start.
Adding to that? The reviews weren’t kind to new fledgling streaming service Apple TV+, run by not-so-fledging company Apple, and despite a few shining moments of drama from The Morning Show (which had its own kind of drama going on behind the scenes), the rest of the programming was considered weak and not compelling enough to justify even the paltry $4.99 a month for the content.
Maybe that’s why Apple has seen fit to give away a year of the service for free, as long as you buy something…anything in their store. (Editor’s Note: The cheapest you can go is probably buying an Apple TV or low end iPad in order to snag said referenced free year of service.)
But the story isn’t about the content, or how mediocre the slate is so far. We expect with six billion dollars a year being earmarked for new original series, films and documentaries, there’s gonna be good stuff and bad stuff. There will be a growing slate of content that will continue to fill out the service, and if we’re lucky we may very well find ourselves watching the next Game of Thrones (Seasons 1-5, not 6-8) or House of Cards. Yes, we may be very lucky to that point.
But we won’t ever be as unlucky as the people working for the endeavor itself.
Starting any new streaming endeavor is a complicated initiative, and when you’re a technology company (read: Microsoft) who doesn’t really know how to be an entertainment company, you’re going to have some missteps. But the missteps behind the scenes at Apple TV+ continue to pile up along the way. In the beginning, it was simply Tim Cook and the new co-heads of the “studio” they were building not being on the same page. They came from Sony Television, where they’d launched risqué shows like Breaking Bad, and were now in the House ‘o Jobs, where content needed to not be risqué, couldn’t criticize Apple, had to be accessible for a general audience, include rights for global distribution, and, well, if Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO had anything to do with it…be nice.
And nobody’s nice in Hollywood. Not really.
Things went askew from there. With reshoots and personnel problems on The Morning Show, to fired show runners on a variety of others, to shows that were greenlit only to never actually move forward without any real reasons whatsoever, there consists an ongoing level of confusion for those working with the service and the people that run it behind the scenes. Running a studio is one thing, but running a direct-to-consumer service is another thing altogether. Having to work with engineers who are building a product, in an organization where engineers really are the Gods, is a tough mentality to be OK with, when you are a Hollywood Executive just trying to develop great programming and get it up and out.
It’s common that there are always growing pains in these kind of endeavors. Heck, every single new streaming service is having them. From HBO Max to Peacock to Disney Plus, every one of these companies is building a process and structure in a very complicated, problematic way. They’re marshaling various parts of their global organizations to execute said services, but all they’re really doing is setting themselves up for a re-do at some point in the near future due to the compartmentalization of the structure they’re currently operating within. But the one major difference between all of these companies and their streaming services and Apple TV+?
General happiness and work/life balance.
Yes, cry me a river. You’re telling us that people working for an entertainment company in Hollywood may not generally be happy with the experience? That their work and life balance isn’t to their desired happy quotient? Why not talk about places like Netflix, too, while you’re at it? Places where employees are encouraged to talk shit about their bosses and the people around them and snitch on them every chance they get. Why not talk about that?
Because that story has been told. But not this one.
Word on the street is that the teams of people working so hard to make Apple TV+ a success, are in actuality, not having so much success themselves behind the scenes. There’s confusion across the board, with people steering the ship who have never steered this kind of ship before. They’re trying to build a team of close to 1,000 people, which is akin to building a plane while it’s already in the air flying at 35,000 feet, while people on social media are criticizing said airplane, the way it flies, that it should be flying higher and that they wish they’d start serving up honey roasted peanuts when in fact, all they’re serving up, are pretzels.
It doesn’t make for a fun environment, which is exactly what people are saying. The fun quotient is low, the leadership is learning as they go, and the reception to the service thus far has been middling at best.
It didn’t help back in November when their first official Apple TV movie release, The Banker had to be shelved. With over $20 million dedicated to the acquisition, marketing and promotion for the film, the fact that they had to pull it from ever being released created a dramatic tension behind the scenes, adding controversy to a service that the powers that be didn’t want to ever see occur. Remember, Tim Cook likes things to be shiny, happy and non-confrontational. The premiere movie release getting axed was just another misstep that was the result of moving too fast and not having the right leadership in place to think about the kind of due diligence that must be done in a direct-to-consumer service like this.
But it’s Apple. And they’ve got more money to play with than any other company in the space. And that will buy them some time, and make some mistakes moot.
Perhaps that’s why people are hanging on for dear life, hoping that things are going to change, that the content will get better, and that the people at the controls will actually learn how to operate this whole thing before they slam head first into one of those radio towers that you don’t see until you’re a few hundred feet from crashing into it.
One can hope. Many can hope.
In fact, that’s exactly what they’re doing as you read this…right now.