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What we know about Apple’s TV streaming plans

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CEO Tim Cook won’t disclose much info yet

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Apple CEO Tim Cook isn’t ready to talk about his company’s upcoming streaming service, but during a call with investors yesterday afternoon, he did outline more broadly how Apple is thinking about TV.

The simplest read is that Apple is betting on a combination of prestigious original content and facilitating access to third-party streaming services, which give Apple a cut of recurring subscription fees. The goal is to continue relationships with companies like HBO, which users can sign up for through the App Store, while also offering Apple original content in the same vein as Netflix and Hulu.

Still, that doesn’t answer fundamental questions about what Apple’s upcoming streaming service looks like — an oddity considering Apple is one of the biggest companies gearing up to compete in the streaming wars. But we definitely know a lot about the basics, and can make some good guesses about some specifics. Let’s go through it.

Q85: A Musical Celebration For Quincy Jones Kevin Winter/Getty Images

What we know

Between signing multi-picture deals with studios like A24 and investing in projects like a thriller series from M. Night Shyamalan, Apple has made its intention to curate high-quality original content to compete with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Disney perfectly clear.

Apple doesn’t want to be left in the cold. It’s poaching executives from Sony Pictures, appearing at important festivals like Sundance to acquire hot movies, and developing original television series with top-notch creators. It’s something that Cook spoke briefly about in his investors call.

“We will participate in the original content world,” Cook told investors yesterday. “We have signed a multi-year partnership with Oprah. But today I’m not ready to extend that conversation beyond that point. We’ve hired some great people that I have a super amount of confidence in and they’re working really hard.”

Apple’s investment in original content is staggering. As of last June, Apple has already put together a substantial slate of shows and movies:

Apple has signed a multiyear deal with Oprah Winfrey to develop new shows, ordered a pair of children’s shows from the creators of Sesame Street, a reboot of the science fiction anthology show Amazing Stories, a Hunger Games-style dystopian show called See, a series from La La Land director Damien Chazelle, a thriller series from M. Night Shyamalan, a space drama from Battlestar Galactica creator Ron Moore, a drama about a morning show starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, and an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s classic science fiction novel Foundation.

And it’s only acquired more since.

At the same time, Apple still sees itself as working with companies like HBO, Hulu, and Amazon, specifically by bringing in additional revenue through signups. Apple’s 30 percent cut is a hefty cost, though, and companies like Netflix have recently removed the ability for subscribers to sign up via the App Store in order to avoid the tax.

“All the third-party video subscriptions that are on the store — we’re participating in this today,” Cook told investors. “And I would guess that is going to accelerate into the future as the bundle breaks down and people begin to buy, likely, multiple services in place of their current cable bundle.”

So Apple will run its own independent streaming service, but one part of the end goal is clearly getting everyone into the App Store and subscribing to video services through their Apple accounts.

What we think we know

A new report suggests that Apple’s streaming service will launch this spring, with studios and networks told to be prepared with content by mid-April.

It’s an interesting date. Disney is showing off its standalone streaming service, Disney+, to investors on April 11th. Investors will get a look at the interface of the new service, along with some of the original content launching on Disney+, which could include a look at Jon Favreau’s Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, and Marvel’s Loki series starring Tom Hiddleston.

That’s a lot to compete with, but it looks like Apple’s service will also have a focus on family-friendly content. Apple is investing in series like Carpool Karaoke and working with the creators of Sesame Street on a pair of children’s shows. The goal seems to make the majority of its content available and accessible to everyone, with only a few series and films targeting a primarily adult audience. This puts it more on par with Disney, which will stay true to its brand with its original content, than Netflix, which offers an eclectic assortment of titles.

What we don’t know

For as much as we know about Apple’s original content plans, we don’t know some crucial details.

Cook hasn’t formally announced when the service will launch, nor has he commented on the aforementioned report suggesting it will debut this spring.

We also don’t know how much it will cost. Netflix is raising its subscription cost to $10 for a basic plan, while competitors like Hulu have announced cheaper, ad-supported $6 plans for its subscribers. Even YouTube Premium, the company’s platform for original content, has slashed its prices for subscribers. Disney+ is set to launch in the fall and will cost “substantially less” than Netflix, according to CEO Bob Iger.

Apple is gearing up to compete with all of these companies this year — including AT&T’s WarnerMedia, which will debut three different content packages for subscribers — but is holding back what might be the most important data point of all, especially as it tries to position itself as a “services company” instead of a pure hardware maker.