Apple told the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) that its Apple TV Plus streaming platform had fewer than 20 million subscribers, which allowed it to pay lower rates to IATSE workers than bigger streaming platforms, CNBC reported.
Apple has never publicly released subscriber numbers for its streaming network, which launched in November of 2019. But Apple TV Plus has fewer original shows than larger, more established streaming rivals like Netflix, which said in August it had 209 million subscribers.
“Workers on certain ‘new media’ streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters,” according to a press release IATSE posted on Tuesday. The release didn’t mention any streaming platform by name, but a spokesman told CNBC that Apple claimed under 20 million subscribers in the US and Canada as of July 1st.
The union is preparing for a possible strike after negotiations with production companies have stalled, saying in the release that “the explosion of streaming combined with the pandemic has elevated and aggravated working conditions, bringing 60,000 behind-the-scenes workers covered by these contracts to a breaking point.”
Apple TV Plus has several big-budget shows on its roster, including The Morning Show, which stars Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, and Ted Lasso, its surprise hit comedy about an American coaching an English football club. Ted Lasso had a big showing at the Emmys last week, taking awards for Outstanding Comedy, Lead Actor in a Comedy for star Jason Sudeikis, and supporting acting awards for Brett Goldstein and Hannah Waddingham.
The Morning Show reportedly costs Apple $15 million per episode, and many of Ted Lasso’s writers and stars have reportedly negotiated more lucrative contracts for the show’s third season. Apple said in July that it had a net profit of $21.7 billion on $81.43 billion in revenue in its third quarter of 2021.
Apple and IATSE didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from The Verge on Saturday. An Apple spokesperson told CNBC that it pays rates comparable to leading streaming services.