Watch the trailer for the Apple TV+ drama ‘The Morning Show’

Apple is giving viewers their first extended look at “The Morning Show,” a drama starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell.

Previously, all that we’d seen from the show were a few brief clips in a broader promo for Apple’s upcoming subscription service TV+, followed by an ominous teaser trailer that was literally just shots of a TV control room, accompanied by audio clips where people talked about how incredibly  important the news business is.

This trailer dials down the Aaron Sorkin vibe and sets up up a story where Aniston and Carrell are longtime hosts of a morning TV show — but Carrell gets fired, so a search for fresh talent leads the producers to a younger reporter played by Reese Witherspoon.

While the story and characters appear to be fictional, they draw on the real-world drama depicted in Brian Stelter’s book “Top of the Morning.”

“The Morning Show” is scheduled to debut sometime this fall on Apple TV+. This will likely to be one of the first titles on the service (which still doesn’t have an announced price or launch date), but Apple has a lot more content in the works.

Disney+ comes to Canada and the Netherlands on Nov. 12, will support nearly all major platforms at launch

Disney+ will have an international launch that begins at the same time as its rollout in the U.S., Disney revealed. The company will be launching its digital streaming service on November 12 in Canada and The Netherlands on November 12, and will be coming to Australia and New Zealand the following week. The streaming service will also support virtually every device and operating system from day one.

Disney+ will be available on iOS, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Android, Android TV, PlayStation 4, Roku, and Xbox One at launch, which is pretty much an exhaustive list of everywhere someone might want to watch it, leaving aside some smaller proprietary smart TV systems. That, combined with the day-and-date global markets, should be a clear indicator that Disney wants its service to be available to as many customers as possible, as quickly as possible.

Through Apple’s iPhone, iPad and Apple TV devices, customers will be able to subscribe via in-app purchase. Disney+ will also be fully integrated with Apple’s TV app, which is getting an update in iOS 13 in hopes of becoming even more useful as a central hub for all a user’s video content. The one notable exception on the list of supported devices and platforms is Amazon’s Fire TV, which could change closer to launch depending on negotiations.

In terms of pricing, the service will run $8.99 per month or $89.99 per year in Canada, and €6.99 per month (or €69.99 per year) in the Netherlands. In Australia, it’ll be $8.99 per month or $89.99 per year, and in New Zealand, it’ll be $9.99 and $99.99 per year. All prices are in local currency.

That compares pretty well with the $6.99 per month (or $69.99 yearly) asking price in the U.S., and undercuts the Netflix pricing in those markets, too. This is just the Disney+ service on its own, however, not the combined bundle that includes ESPN Plus and Hulu for $12.99 per month, which is probably more comparable to Netflix in terms of breadth of content offering.

 

Apple suspends Siri response grading in response to privacy concerns

In response to concerns raised by a Guardian story last week over how recordings of Siri queries are used for quality control, Apple is suspending the program world wide. Apple says it will review the process that it uses, called grading, to determine whether Siri is hearing queries correctly, or being invoked by mistake.

In addition, it will be issuing a software update in the future that will let Siri users choose whether they participate in the grading process or not. 

The Guardian story from Alex Hern quoted extensively from a contractor at a firm hired by Apple to perform part of a Siri quality control process it calls grading. This takes snippets of audio, which are not connected to names or IDs of individuals, and has contractors listen to them to judge whether Siri is accurately hearing them — and whether Siri may have been invoked by mistake.

“We are committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy,” Apple said in a statement to TechCrunch. “While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally. Additionally, as part of a future software update, users will have the ability to choose to participate in grading.”

The contractor claimed that the audio snippets could contain personal information, audio of people having sex and other details like finances that could be identifiable, regardless of the process Apple uses to anonymize the records. 

They also questioned how clear it was to users that their raw audio snippets may be sent to contractors to evaluate in order to help make Siri work better. When this story broke, I dipped into Apple’s terms of service myself and, though there are mentions of quality control for Siri and data being shared, I found that it did fall short of explicitly and plainly making it clear that live recordings, even short ones, are used in the process and may be transmitted and listened to. 

The figures Apple has cited put the amount of queries that may be selected for grading under 1 percent of daily requests.

The process of taking a snippet of audio a few seconds long and sending it to either internal personnel or contractors to evaluate is, essentially, industry standard. Audio recordings of requests made to Amazon and Google assistants are also reviewed by humans. 

An explicit way for users to agree to the audio being used this way is table stakes in this kind of business. I’m glad Apple says it will be adding one. 

It also aligns better with the way that Apple handles other data like app performance data that can be used by developers to identify and fix bugs in their software. Currently, when you set up your iPhone, you must give Apple permission to transmit that data. 

Apple has embarked on a long campaign of positioning itself as the most privacy conscious of the major mobile firms and therefore holds a heavier burden when it comes to standards. Doing as much as the other major companies do when it comes to things like using user data for quality control and service improvements cannot be enough if it wants to maintain the stance and the market edge that it brings along with it.

Vizio rolls out its Apple AirPlay and HomeKit integrations to its SmartCast TV platform

Ahead of Apple launching its big video streaming initiative Apple TV+ this autumn, a integration is going live today that brings Apple closer to working with third-party TV makers and making its services available on a wider array of devices. Today Vizio said it would start to roll out support for AirPlay2 and HomeKit to its SmartCast TV sets, making it possible to stream video and other media from Apple devices to its TVs and control the sets using Apple’s Home app and through its Siri voice assistant.

The support is coming by way of an over-the-air update to SmartCast 3.0, the system that underpins Vizio’s smart TVs. Notably, using the Apple services will not necessarily mean buying new Vizio TVs: the service is backwards compatible to TVs dating back to 2016. New sets range in prices from $259.99 to $3,499.99.

“SmartCast 3.0 is full of added value for VIZIO customers. With both AirPlay 2 and HomeKit support, users can now share movies, TV shows, music and more from their favorite apps, including the Apple TV app, directly to SmartCast TVs, and enable TV controls through the Home app and Siri,” said Bill Baxter, Chief Technology Officer, VIZIO. “We are thrilled to offer an even more compelling value proposition to our users with a smart TV experience that supports all three major voice assistants. This broad range of compatibility enables VIZIO SmartCast to seamlessly integrate into any household with Siri, Google Assistant or Alexa – giving users more ways to sit back and enjoy the entertainment they love.” Vizio still appears to be the only smart TV maker that’s offering support on its sets for all of the major voice assistants.

Vizio’s integration for Apple’s media services was first announced in January at CES, when Vizio said it would be getting actually rolled out later in the year.

The news was notable at the time for a couple of reasons. First, it underscored how Vizio was stepping up its growth efforts after a tough couple of years involving lawsuits, regulatory investigations and a failed M&A attempt.

Second, it was part of a bigger theme of Apple branching out into a wider consumer electronics ecosystem for its push into the world of TV and video. The latter still stands in stark contrast to Apple’s approach around smartphones, computers and watches, where it has spent years building hardware, operating systems and walled gardens.

That’s a story that is still playing out. The timing of the Vizio news is notable given that it’s just one day after Apple’s quarterly earnings report, where the company revealed a solid quarter that beat analyst expectations but also continued to show slowing growth, largely on the back of an ongoing decline in unit sales for the iPhone (amid a similar, bigger market trend for smarphones overall). To offset that story, Apple has been working hard to build new product categories in newer hardware areas like wearables (the Apple Watch) and smart home hubs (HomePod), and Services, which includes Apple’s efforts in areas like video and music (

Services came in at $11.455 billion — missing analysts expections but still growing 13% on a year ago. The promise — or perhaps more accurately, the hope — is that adding TV and gaming into the mix later in the year will boost that even more. This is where integrations such as the one getting announced today with Vizio will fit in: they will help expand the number of people who might be using the services, and of course the number of screens where the content can be consumed.

Vizio does not specify how many sets it currently has in the market — last number it gave me earlier in the year was “millions” — but it generally is behind Samsung, which currently leads in the smart TV category.

It notes that the service will work by way of tapping an AirPlay icon within SmartCast to be able to stream 4K and Dolby VisionTM HDR movies and TV shows from Apple TV, along with other AirPlay-compatible video apps. Mirroring (which you can also do with non-smart TVs) will also be supported. AirPlay 2 also lets users play content across multiple rooms (provided you have the sets, HomePods or other AirPlay 2 speakers installed).

Apple gives a sneak peek of its new Peanuts series with ‘Snoopy in Space’ trailer

As the U.S. commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, Apple took to the internet to give audiences a peek into the first of its new Peanuts series, “Snoopy in Space.”

The series will follow Charles M. Schulz’s characters as they take a field trip to a NASA location where Snoopy and Woodstock are selected for a space mission.

Charlie Brown and the rest of the characters will staff mission control, while Snoopy and Woodstock fly into the great beyond.

The series is set to launch on Apple TV+ in the fall.

Apple reportedly planning to fund creation of exclusive original podcasts

Apple is said to be planning to bankroll the creation of original podcasts from third-parties that it will offer exclusively on its own streaming services, Bloomberg reports. The report says that Apple’s plans to land podcast exclusives will help the company compete with similar offerings from streaming rivals including Spotify and Sticher, both of which are funding exclusive podcast content, and in some cases, wholly original shows to run on their own streaming audio offerings.

The report says that Apple execs have been reaching out to media companies that produce audio content to talk about the possibility of buying exclusive rights to some podcasts, albeit in a “preliminary” way, which suggests that this plan may be in the very early stages. It seems unlikely, then, that we would see any kind of Apple exclusive original podcast content ahead of other media efforts soon to launch from the company, including its Apple TV+ subscription video service coming this fall.

Apple has recently made a number of improvements to its podcast product offerings, both on the consumer and the creator side, including more detailed analytics for podcasters, and a full-fledged standalone Podcasts app for its macOS computers, which is launching alongside macOS Catalina this fall. Still, it’s largely been hands-off when it comes to content, aside from informally meeting with podcasters on occasion and sharing best practices.

Meanwhile, Spotify in particular has been especially aggressive about acquiring its own podcast media companies, including Gimlet, which makes popular podcast ‘Reply All”; Anchor, which creates podcast making tools for publishing and monetization; and Parcast, another podcast creation network with a deep library of true-life and other content.

Apple still enjoys a strong majority of audience when it comes to overall podcast listenership by all accounts, but Spotify is definitely chipping away by focusing effort and investment both on the product and on the content side. Apple considering funding content of its own definitely makes sense given its tactics in video, and the changed landscape of the podcast business.

AT&T’s new streaming service HBO Max arrives in 2020, will be the exclusive home of ‘Friends’

AT&T’s acquisition of HBO goes beyond just offering premium TV programming – the company revealed on Tuesday that it’s going to call its new streaming service HBO Max, and that this will launch next spring, with over 10,000 hours of content available to subscribers.

It’ll have ‘Friends,’ dear readers, which is all that matters in the modern streaming wars where weirdly services compete for dominion over a couple of decade-plus-year old TV shows including ‘The Office’ and this highly-unrelatable 90s NBC sitcom.

HBO Max won’t offer exclusively HBO content, as you can probably tell by the availability fo Friends, but the Wall Street Journal reports that the naming is meant to indicate how important HBO as a TV brand is to consumers. In other words, they’re going to make the most of that purchase, even if it dilutes the actual HBO brand in the process. It’s beginning to become much more clear why HBO CEO Richard Plepler resigned in February.

The new service enters a teeming field of competitors, including Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix and many more I can’t even remember off the top of my head. It’s also not launching until after Apple puts live its own Apple TV+ service, and Disney+ comes online in November, and per the WSJ, it’ll cost “slightly more” than HBO’s currently $14.99 per month pricing for Go alone.

AT&T is spending on content, however, including the high purchase price for ‘Friends’ rights, as well as development deals with a number of top talents from the film and television industry, including Reese Witherspoon, Greg Berlanti and more. Future CW shows will also reside in HBO Max instead of on Netflix, which is bad news for my habit of bingeing subpar DC superhero TV including ‘Arrow’ and ‘The Flash.’

Apple TV is getting a Picture-in-Picture mode so you can watch two shows at once

Apple TV is getting a Picture-in-Picture mode that will allow users to stream two shows at the same time, TechCrunch has confirmed. The feature’s forthcoming launch was first reported by Apple news site 9to5Mac earlier today, following today’s release of new beta software for all of Apple’s operating systems, including tvOS.

After installing tvOS beta 2, Twitter user Nikolaj Hansen-Turton noticed a new option — the ability to play content in a smaller window in the bottom-right of the screen, overlaid on top of the main Apple TV interface. Or, simply put, it’s a Picture-in-Picture mode. (See tweets below).

Several publications soon ran the news.

But what wasn’t clear at the time was whether this was just a minimized video player window or a true Picture-in-Picture experience. The tweeted photo and video, after all, seemed to show a static background on the main screen — not two programs playing simultaneously. However, we understand that Apple TV will support the ability to stream two shows at once.

There are some caveats, though.

Picture-in-Picture support will only be available for content provided by Apple. That includes content purchased through iTunes, TV shows and movies streamed the Apple TV+ subscription service launching later this year, and videos streamed through Apple TV Channels.

Channels, which arrived with the updated TV app in May, lets users subscribe to premium add-ons including HBO, Starz, Showtime, EPIX, Tastemade, Smithsonian Channel and others. The idea is similar to the premium subscriptions available through Amazon’s Prime Video Channels or the more recently added subscriptions offered through Roku’s streaming hub, The Roku Channel.

To be clear, that means if you subscribe to HBO through Apple’s Channels, you will be able to watch HBO in Picture-in-Picture mode when the new version of tvOS ships to the public later this fall. But if you subscribe to HBO through the HBONOW.com website and then watch via the third-party HBO NOW app, you won’t be able to use Picture-in-Picture mode.

Apple intends to expand its catalog of premium subscriptions in time, which will make it possible to view more programming in the Picture-in-Picture mode in the future.

Apple hasn’t yet announced plans for third-party developer tools that would allow them to customize their own apps to support Picture-in-Picture mode. If those aren’t immediately available, it gives Apple TV owners a compelling reason to subscribe to premium programming through Apple TV Channels, instead of through a third-party website or app. (Which would be a nice perk for Apple’s TV platform revenue, as well.)

Support for Picture-in-Picture mode wasn’t announced earlier this month at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference where the company previews its upcoming software releases, which made today’s reveal a pleasant surprise for Apple TV fans.

Picture-in-Picture mode will be supported on both Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD, we understand.

It’s Always Sunny meets Warcraft in Mythic Quest Apple TV+ trailer

He’s no Keanu, but Rob Mcelhenney’s pretty good as far as E3 cameos go. The It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star hit the stage at Ubisoft’s presser this afternoon to show off a trailer from his upcoming ridiculously named Apple TV+ series, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet.

The series was created by Mcelhenney and Sunny vets Charlie Day, and Megan Ganz and produced by Ubisoft Film and Television — marking its first live action series. Details are thin at the moment, but the series is a workplace comedy set in the offices of the publishers behind the massively successful World of Warcraft-style MMORPG, Mythic Quest.

From the looks of things, the series shares more in common with The Office than Sunny, shot in a mockumentary style. Though again, the trailer doesn’t really offer much to go on. More details have been promised soon.

Apple TV+, the company’s premium streaming service, is launching this fall. 

Apple hires A&E’s Molly Thompson as its head of Documentaries

In addition to a growing lineup of scripted fare, documentaries will be another key focus for Apple TV+, the company’s new streaming service set to launch in May. According to a new report today from Variety, Apple has hired A&E’s Molly Thompson as its head of Documentaries.

Thompson’s experience at A&E includes founding its documentary production arm, A&E IndieFilms, back in 2005. While there, several of its films earned Emmy nominations, including “Life, Animated,” “Cartel Land,” “Jesus Camp” and “Murderball.”

Cartel Land,” “Life, Animated” and “The Tillman Story,” combined, went on to win more than a half-dozen Emmys, along with other industry awards.

Thompson also has exec produced: “The Clinton Affair,” Charles Ferguson’s “Watergate” docu-series, “Studio 54,” “City of Ghosts,” “The Imposter,” “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon,” “The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld,” “No Place on Earth,” “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and “Being Evel” — some of which were under A&E’s History Films banner.

For Lifetime Films, she exec produced two narrative features: “Lila & Eve,” which starred Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez and premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival; plus Eleanor Coppola’s “Paris Can Wait,” with Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin.

Thompson’s hiring indicates Apple’s interest in bringing content that will appeal to those who don’t regularly watch traditional TV, but instead like to stream more educational fare — like documentary films and docu-series, biographies, shows with a historical focus and other non-fiction. Plus, documentaries would give Apple a way to compete early on for Emmy attention, even if its scripted series fail to gain critical praise.

Documentaries also represent another means of competing directly with Netflix, where the format has become a huge draw for subscribers — even zeitgeist-y, at times. Netflix today has a range of documentaries that nearly everyone has seen, or has at least heard of, like “Making a Murderer,” “Wild Wild Country,” “13th,” “Amanda Knox,” “Fyre,” “Amy” and many more. This month it will have another hit in this genre, with Beyoncé’s Coachella documentary, out on April 17th.

Apple has already announced a few of its documentary efforts for Apple TV+, including Oprah’s docu-series, one of which is co-produced with Prince Harry; as well as a docu-series about extraordinary homes; and Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble’s documentary about an elephant matriarch, “The Elephant Queen.” The latter, which Apple picked up at the Toronto International Film Festival, was one of its first feature film buys.

Image credit: IMDb