Apple is wrong to take on Spotify with TV shows and movies

Ben Munson

Much has been made over the years of Apple’s continued attempts at video. But the company’s latest intention to take on a rival music streamer with original video content seems wrongheaded.

As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, Apple is currently looking to buy original TV shows and films and then offer them as part of the company’s current $10/month streaming service. Apple is pursuing veteran producers to find new shows and going after marketing muscle to help sell it.

But, since trying to keep pace with the billions that Netflix and Amazon are pouring into their respective original content strategies would be awfully expensive, Apple’s latest video plans will likely be on a smaller scale and aimed at taking on Spotify.

In general, there are problematic elements of Apple’s continued push for original content. According to analyst Horace Dediu, Apple’s desire to be an international company means content, since it’s local, is not a compatible fit for Apple’s business and culture. Adding to that, Andreessen Horowitz partner Benedict Evans said such a move signals a lack of confidence in Apple’s core product, according to Business Insider.

In the context of using original content to take on Spotify, Apple’s reported plans make even less sense, because Spotify has gone down that same road before and encountered a dead end.

Spotify announced plans in 2015 to add video clips and original programming to its mix of streaming music and brought on board content partners like ABC, NBCUniversal, TBS, Comedy Central, ESPN and Conde Nast.

"For the first time, Spotify is adding video clips and audio shows to the music mix," the company said in a blog post on its site.

Since then, Spotify hasn’t abandoned its original content plans, but it has altered them quite a bit. The ESPN and Comedy Central clips eventually went away, as those programmers reportedly discovered that views were racking up to the measly tune of hundreds or thousands.

“What Spotify has come to learn is that Spotify is amazing when you have a passive audience—when the audience doesn’t need to look at a video,” a Spotify content partner source told Digiday. “Some of the Spotify videos that did best were TED Talks, because those don’t actually need to be watched.”

In place of traditional programmer clips, Spotify is now showing content like short music history documentaries and Drawn & Recorded, an animated series that delves into musicians’ stories.

While it’s unclear how successful these series have been for Spotify, it is clear that they can function both as traditional viewing experiences and as listening experiences, which is what consumers primarily look for in music streaming services.

Apple’s plans to bake original TV shows and films into Apple Music clearly don’t fit with that mold. It’s unlikely anyone would opt for audio only with a movie. And there’s a strong possibility that users coming for streaming music won’t be interested in any new TV shows or films.

If Apple is serious about competing with Spotify, it would be wise to learn from Spotify’s mistakes. —Ben