When Apple announced that it was sinking $1 billion into its nascent original content division, it signaled the arrival of yet another new player in the streaming wars. Earlier this week, the tech giant showed the full scope of its might by outbidding industry heavyweights Netflix and Showtime for the rights to a new series set in the breakneck world of morning talk shows.
The untitled show is highly coveted because it will star America’s co-sweethearts, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, who will join forces for the first time since Witherspoon guest starred as Aniston’s sister on Friends in 2000. Witherspoon and Aniston will also serve as executive producers, which might help explain why the show already has a two-season, 20-episode order before a single line of dialogue has been written.
The Oscar-winning actress has emerged as one of Hollywood’s most sought after producers thanks to the success of female-led movies Wild and Gone Girl. Witherspoon also spun gold for HBO with the Emmy-sweeping prestige melodrama Big Little Lies, which became a mammoth hit with critics and audiences alike. Her relationship with HBO had some guessing that her latest venture would find a home there as well. But in the end, Apple’s pockets were deeper—and that should make rivals very nervous.
Apple’s only current original series are the hapless reality show Planet of The Apps and James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke spin-off, which isn’t generating the same excitement as its namesake late-night segement. But this latest splash into scripted programming—along with the announced planned reimagining of Steven Spielberg’s beloved 1980s supernatural anthology series Amazing Stories—is proof that the company is serious about besting Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.
While Hulu is coming off Emmy wins for The Handmaid’s Tale, Amazon Studios and Netflix have been engulfed in sexual assault scandals. Production at the former is essentially stalled following multiple harassment allegations against Roy Price, head of Amazon Studios. Then came the allegations against Jeffrey Tambor, the star of Amazon Prime’s most successful show, Transparent. Given that Netflix wrote out Kevin Space’s character from House of Cards, if Tambor’s situation worsens, he too may face unemployment.
At this point, landing a show from two of the most powerful women in Hollywood would have undoubtedly been a good look for both companies. What makes Apple’s win more impressive is that it did so despite plans to avoid—in true Apple fashion—racy content; instead, the company wants to maintain its family-friendly image.
The Witherspoon-Aniston outting will use Brian Stelter’s 2014 book, Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV as inspiration for setting up New York’s media landscape. The book chronicled the morning TV wars between NBC’s Today, ABC’s Good Morning America and CBS This Morning. Does that mean Witherspoon and Aniston will play rival hosts from different networks? It’s a juicy proposition.
Now that Apple has the formidable one-two punch of producers Witherspoon and Spielberg, it’s next step is strategizing how to deliver these narratives to an audience. For one, most Americans still regard Apple for its products first, its library second and a full-fledged content platform third. The $9.99 monthly subscription service Apple Music, which has reportedly 30 million subscribers, has become home for Carpool Karaoke and Planet of The Apps, but its original programming expands, it’s conceivable that Apple will launch a separate streaming platform.
In the meantime, Apple Music is the only current platform for its original shows, so only those who own Apple devices will have access to its content. Will the allure of boldface names like Aniston and Witherspoon be enough to make us ignore the fact that watching content on iTunes is already bit of a hassle? The solution is unclear, but whatever it is, we can guarantee the packaging will be super minimalistic.