Editors' Choice

Apple’s Streaming Service Risks Boring Audiences with Family-Friendly Content

Steve Porter / September 28, 2018

Apple’s upcoming streaming service is supposed to compete with the reigning champion, Netflix, established television networks like HBO, and newcomers with deep wallets like Disney and Amazon. Apple even has a $1 billion budget to offer buzz-worthy shows and high-quality series to grab your attention in a crowded field! That’s what we would expect, but a report from The Wall Street Journal indicates that Apple CEO Tim Cook wants to keep the company “family-friendly” with no gratuitous sex, profanity, or violence. His determination to keep the content from offending potential viewers has delayed or derailed some of the service’s promising projects and demoralized Apple’s streaming team.

Apple has lined up an impressive roster of series, on paper, including Amazing Stories from Steven Spielberg, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, Vital Signs from Dr. Dre, and unnamed projects from Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, M. Night Shymanalan, and Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht (the creators of Breaking Bad). But according to The WSJ, CEO Tim Cook has rejected Vital Signs for scenes including cocaine use, guns, and sex. Cook has also pressured other creators to remove (supposedly) offensive humor, religious symbols that might attract rabid critics, or “dark” material. That’s a staggering level of executive interference.

So what are they going to actually air? Apple has reportedly green-lit suitably harmless series about poet Emily Dickinson (ironically, a tortured recluse who wrote about sex and death?), a football drama, and projects from Oprah Winfrey and the creators of Sesame Street.

According to The WSJ, Apple employees are calling the streaming service “expensive NBC.”
Apple seems to have taken a risk-averse approach that avoids any unwanted press or criticism from family groups, conservatives, or political commentators—the Disney Method, if you will. We suspect that Disney’s upcoming streaming service will suffer from the same concerns, but they, at least, can offer some of the most popular films on the planet including Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unlike Disney, Apple does not have any major franchises to attract dedicated subscribers.

While it is more than possible to create compelling “PG” content that does not need blood, guts, and boobs, how will Apple attract viewers in a competitive marketplace with ostentatiously uncontroversial material? Netflix thrived by offering a range of programming, including headline-grabbing series and exciting films with fresh ideas. Apple seems too afraid to offer adult audiences a broad selection of interesting shows—instead, we might get a billion dollars of bland.