Narrative: Apple Doesn't Get Services
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Narrative: Apple Doesn’t Get Services (Dec 27, 2016)
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Apple Poaches Two Sony TV Execs to Lead Video Programming (Jun 16, 2017)
Apple has hired two executives who previously helped make Breaking Bad and The Crown on behalf of AMC and Netflix respectively as its new heads of video programming globally. Those two pieces of content are powerful examples of the role of original content in boosting video brands – Breaking Bad was a major plank of AMC’s push over recent years to turn itself into more than just a catalog player, and while The Crown isn’t Netflix’s most popular bit of original content, it’s very good and a sign of the kind of big-budget stuff it’s going to be making more of going forward. As such, these are fascinating hires, given that for now at least Apple is on the opposite of that process – commissioning rather than producing original video content. These hires could be a sign that change is coming, given that these two new execs have experience producing and not just commissioning video, but that’s a somewhat unusual model for original content compared with other major players like Netflix, which have still tended to farm out original content rather than lead production internally. It’s possible that they will merely become equivalents of Ted Sarandos at Netflix, using their expertise to commission and oversee outside projects, but they seem somewhat odd hires in that context. All of this, meanwhile, seems much less plausible in a continued narrow focus on video content in Apple Music, and much more as part of a broader push into video ahead of a subscription video service. Two other things worth noting: Apple put out a press release on the hires, something it does very rarely indeed, suggesting it wants to make a fuss out of this. Secondly, these two will report directly to Eddy Cue, which will set up an interesting dynamic with Jimmy Iovine, who has seemed to loom large over all of Apple’s content efforts, but especially in video, and who I’ve speculated before is a bit of a loose cannon in this area. I’m hoping these two coming on board provides some more clarity in who owns original video content at Apple.
Apple didn’t mention Business Chat explicitly during its WWDC keynote on Monday, but details about it have emerged during the week and it held a session on Friday morning at which it detailed the service for developers. What we know now is that Business Chat is an equivalent to Facebook Messenger for business to allow businesses to perform customer service tasks through iMessage. It won’t launch publicly until next year, but Apple is announcing a developer preview and all the tools necessary for businesses to create customer interactions using iMessage. The platform is pretty fully featured, offering not just text messaging but payments through Apple Pay, pickers for time slots, products, and the like, and integration with custom apps through the iMessage apps platform. Between this and the various other changes we’ve seen announced by Apple around iMessage over the past year, it’s evolving iMessage from a mere app to much more of a platform, very much along the lines I outlined in this article I wrote early last year. I think that’s super smart, and one of the best things about it from a customer perspective is that Apple isn’t doing any of this to drive new revenues or push advertising or any of the other things others in this space – notably Facebook – are doing. Apple is very aware of how personal a space iMessage is, and will prevent businesses from ever sending unsolicited messages – every interaction will be initiated by the user, from the first onwards. The platform looks clever, and giving developers and companies lots of time to implement it should mean that by the time this releases to the public next year, it should be really effective.
In our second news item about proprietary news formats today, Apple has hired Lauren Kern as its first Editor in Chief for Apple News. She was previously executive editor at New York Magazine and then took on more of a managerial role across several publications owned by the parent company. Apple has lots of editors today, but their role is curatorial rather than truly editorial, and I wonder if that will change with Kern’s appointment. Apple is purely an aggregation platform for today, but we could see it do more with pulling news together on a particular topic and perhaps highlighting the best coverage. Kern’s magazine background might also suggest a focus on more long-form content, which Apple could either continue to curate or perhaps begin to create or commission itself. Apple News as a platform has done relatively well, driving some decent traffic for at least some publishers, but doesn’t have nearly the reach of Facebook’s Instant Articles or the Google-led AMP format. It’s also at the early stages from a monetization perspective, offering only ads as a business model broadly and then subscriptions only for a handful of publications today. I would expect the subscription model to open up later this year, probably with an announcement at WWDC in a couple of weeks, so that would be another interesting angle for Kern to work on.
I’m seeing this change generally being reported as a clarification (including in the piece I link to here) but this is a change from the original wording here, which explicitly said the cut in affiliate fees announced a couple of weeks ago applied to both “app and in-app content” and didn’t include apps in the list of content types to which the change would not apply. Unless that was just really terrible wording, it does seem as though there has been a change in policy here. Applying the change just to in-app purchases again makes me wonder whether there might be some change to Apple’s cut of App Store revenue in this category, announced at WWDC in a few weeks. We don’t know quite how much of Apple’s App Store revenue comes from IAP, but games dominate total revenues, and IAP is the dominant model for games, so there’s a good chance that it’s 30% or more. As such, any cut to Apple’s share of revenues would dent overall App Store growth and Apple’s ambitions to double its overall Services revenues over four years from 2016 to 2020. So I’m somewhat skeptical, but changing the cut for IAPs would certainly go a long way to addressing the long-standing complaint from content companies like Spotify that Apple takes too much of their fees, given that those are charged through IAPs. And it would potentially open the door to Amazon’s arrival on the Apple TV too.
Amazon Video App May Finally Come to Apple TV in Q3 (May 5, 2017)
Apple Provides Better Source Insights to App Developers (May 4, 2017)
Apple has been criticized for not giving developers good enough insights on how their apps perform and especially for not allowing developers to know where new users come from. That’s now changing with an update to Apple’s analytics platform for developers, which will be particularly useful in light of the paid ads which now run in Apple’s App Store search function. Developers need to know whether those ads are being effective in gaining new users and downloads, and how they measure up relative to other lead generation methods. The incremental steps Apple has taken to expand the range of business models open to developers, to share more of the revenue with those developers, and to improve analytics over the past couple of years are all checking important boxes in the wish lists of developers and cementing the status of iOS as the platform to develop for, despite Android’s larger user numbers.
Musical.ly is one of the few big app hits in recent years that didn’t come from one of the big established players and isn’t a game, while also being that rare example of a Chinese tech company that’s done well in the West. It’s popular with teenagers, who use the app to create short music videos using original songs, and Apple will now be the supplier of those songs, replacing a small UK-based provider. It will also therefore be able to promote Apple Music within the service, and will integrate with Apple Music for paying subscribers. Recode notes that the app has declined in popularity recently as measured by App Store rankings, but the reality is that its ranking has been extremely volatile, rising as high as 11th and as low as 92nd over the past six months. That volatility is driven almost entirely by the day of the week, with the app peaking over the weekend and dropping during the week – had Recode written its piece last Saturday, for example, the app would have been ranked #41. Given Musical.ly’s popularity within its target segment, Apple is smart to strike a partnership that allows it both to drive additional revenue and market to the app’s users. I’m almost surprised Apple didn’t just acquire the company and app outright, given Apple’s recent investment in creative and content apps with News, Music, and Clips.