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A new report outlines Apple’s reluctance to have mature content on its streaming service

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Sex and violence are off the table

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

This morning, The Wall Street Journal released a report that details the state of Apple’s yet-to-be-unveiled streaming service. It highlights some of the difficulties Apple has faced in striking the right tone for its content, particularly when it comes to “gratuitous sex, profanity or violence.” The piece cites sources who expect the launch of the streaming service to be pushed further back.

The report opens with Apple CEO Tim Cook’s reaction to Vital Signs, a show based on the life of Dr. Dre. Apple picked up the show back in 2016, but when Cook viewed it a year ago, he told Apple Music executive Jimmy Iovine that it was too violent and that the company can’t show it.

Apple has big plans for its original content ambitions. It brought in two seasoned Hollywood executives to oversee its video streaming project, and it invested $1 billion to develop a slate of new projects. Judging from those acquisitions, the company is swinging for the fences: it’s picked up a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, a space show from Battlestar Galactica’s Ron Moore, a network drama starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, a show based on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and more. The WSJ report notes that Apple’s preference is for family-friendly projects that appeal to a broad audience, and it’s trying to avoid weighing into overly political or controversial territory with the content that it’s producing. (Only a handful of those shows “veer into ‘TV-MA’ territory.”)

This has caused problems and delays for some those shows: showrunner Bryan Fuller stepped down from the Amazing Stories reboot after reportedly clashing with Apple over its approach, and the WSJ says that the Aniston-Witherspoon drama faced personnel changes and is being delayed amid scheduling issues with Witherspoon. Apple has been widely expected to begin rolling out its original content in March 2019, but people who spoke with the WSJ said that they expect the date to be pushed back.

Apple’s approach doesn’t come as a huge surprise: it’s been described as “conservative and picky.” The company has long forbidden adult content from its App Store, rigorously removing Apps that even display NSFW content, like Vine or 500px. TV executives note in the report that streaming services can simply weather a boycott or lose some subscribers, but alienating audiences could prompt viewers to boycott Apple’s hardware.

Apple’s attitude runs counter to the current trends in the TV industry. Streaming services and cable news channels like Amazon, HBO, Hulu, and Netflix haven’t shied away from sex and violence in their shows. The WSJ notes that some of Apple’s LA team have begun “calling themselves ‘expensive NBC.’” Other Hollywood producers note that while Apple has said that it’s interested in quality projects and didn’t want agents to “edit [themselves],” the company wasn’t clear about what its expectations are, although gratuitous sex and violence are off the table.