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

Digging into Apple’s media transformation

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch Editor-in-Chief, Matthew Panzarino, offered his analysis on the major announcements that came out of Apple’s keynote event this past Monday.

Behind a series of new subscription and media products, Apple has set the stage for one of the largest transformations in the company’s history. Matthew touches on all of Apple’s major product initiatives including Apple’s new credit card, its push into original content, its subscription gaming platform, and its subscription news service, which features Extra Crunch as one of the debut publications.

“I don’t think many of the things that Apple announced here, on an individual basis, are earth-shattering. I think it shapes up to be a really solid, nice offering for people with some distinct advantages but at the same time it’s not breaking huge molds here. I think the same thing applies across all of the offerings that they put out there.

I just felt that together, it’s solid but not scintillating and we need to see how they develop, how they launch, and then what they do with these platforms…

…Seems relatively straightforward. However, some of the stuff people have glossed over is very intriguing.”

Matthew goes into more detail on why he didn’t view the announcements as individually earth-shattering, and why he sees compelling opportunities for Apple to position its offerings as a symbiotic ecosystem. He also goes under the hood to discuss some of Apple’s overlooked competitive advantages in media and to paint a picture of how Apple’s new product lines might evolve in the long-term.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Apple TV+ makes Facebook Watch look like a joke

Apple flexed its wallet today in a way Facebook has scared to do. Tech giants make money by the billions, not the millions, which should give them an easy way to break into premium video distribution: buy some must-see content. That’s the strategy I’ve been advocating for Facebook but that Apple actually took to heart. Tim Cook wrote lines of zeros on some checks, and suddenly Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Oprah became the well-known faces of Apple TV+.

Facebook Watch has…MTV’s The Real World? The other Olsen sister? Re-runs of Buffy The Vampire Slayer? Actually, Facebook Watch is dominated by the kind of low-quality viral video memes the social network announced it would kick out of its News Feed for wasting people’s time.

And so while Apple TV+ at least has a solid base camp from which to make the uphill climb to compete with Netflix, Facebook Watch feels like it’s tripping over its own feet.

Today, Apple gave a preview of its new video subscription service that will launch in fall offering unlimited access to old favorites and new exclusives for a monthly fee. Yet even without any screenshots or pricing info, Apple still got people excited by dangling its big-name content.

Spielberg is making short films out of the Amazing Stories anthology that inspired him as a child. Abrams is spinning a tale of a musician’s rise called Little Voice Witherspoon and Aniston star in The Morning Show about anchoring a news program. And Oprah is bringing documentaries about workplace harassment and mental health.

This tentpole tactic will see Apple try to draw users into a free trial of Apple TV+ with this must-see content and then convince them to stay. And a compelling, exclusive reason to watch is exactly what’s been missing from…Facebook Watch. Instead, it chose to fund a wide array of often unscripted reality and documentary shorts that never felt special or any better than what else was openly available on the Internet, let alone what you could get from a subscription. It now claims to have 75 million people Watching at least one minute per day, but it’s failed to spawn a zeitgeist moment. Even as Facebook has scrambled to add syndicated TV cult favorites like Firefly or soccer matches to free, ad-supported video service, it’s failed to sign on anything truly newsworthy.

That’s just not going to fly anymore. Tech has evolved past the days when media products could win just based on their design, theoretical virality, or the massive audiences they’re cross-promoted to. We’re anything but starved for things to watch or listen to. And if you want us to frequent one more app or sign up for one more subscription, you’ll need A-List talent that makes us take notice. Netflix has Stranger Things. HBO has Game Of Thrones. Amazon has the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Disney+ has…Marvel, Star Wars, and the princesses. And now Apple has the world’s top directors and actresses.

Video has become a battle of the rich. Apple didn’t pull any punches. Facebook will need to buy some new fighters if Watch is ever going to deserve a place in the ring.

Talk Apple news with TechCrunch EIC Matthew Panzarino

Apple rolled out major updates to main consumer services today, including a new Apple credit card, an ad-free TV subscription service, a paywalled version of News (that includes Extra Crunch), and a gaming platform upgrade.

TechCrunch Editor-In-Chief Matthew Panzarino attended live to hear the latest, and I can tell you that he has already developed some strong opinions…. Tomorrow at 10:30 am PT, Extra Crunch members will get to hear first-hand from him about the ins and outs of the company’s latest media offerings.

Tune in to listen to the details about what happened onstage and off, as well as the opportunity to ask Matthew anything Apple.

To listen to this and all future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

All the videos from Apple’s big media event

Video served as both form and function today at Apple’s media event, and the company wasn’t stingy with classic Apple event videos. Ranging from previews of new services like Apple Arcade to a look at the artists creating content for Apple TV +, the videos should give folks who missed the live stream a quick look at what’s next out of Apple services.

As with most events, today’s kicked off with a teaser video:

The first product Apple announced was Apple News+, which offers access to more than 300 magazines and newspapers for $9.99/month. Of note, Apple News+ is the only product Apple announced today that’s also available today.

The second new product out of Apple is Apple Card. Apple Card is essentially an electronic credit card that works anywhere that Apple Pay is accepted. The Apple Card app lets you see your transaction history, pay your card and earn 2 percent cash back daily on your purchases, all within the Wallet app.

And yes, it comes with a physical card, which is made of titanium, laser-etched with your name, and has no number. The Apple Card should make credit card fraud more difficult.

Apple then announced a new gaming subscription service called Apple Arcade.

The service won’t launch until this fall, but will include more than 100 premium games at launch from partners including Disney, Konami and Lego. Importantly, this is a cross-platform product, meaning games are playable on iOS, MacOS and tvOS, giving Apple the chance to leverage iOS to get gaming on the Mac.

This one came with two videos, but no price.

And finally, Apple announced Apple TV+, a forthcoming subscription service that would give users access to Apple’s new library of original content. This includes a new show from Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell about a morning news show and an anthology series from Kumail Nanjiana that tells the true story of everyday immigrants, among many others.

And one more thing… Oprah has signed on to do two new shows with Apple TV+.

Apple TV+ doesn’t come out until the fall and there’s still no word on pricing.

Update: Apple just published the Apple TV+ preview (which is the best video from the event, imho).

Oprah offers more details about her partnership with Apple

Apple’s event today, where it announced its streaming plans and more, ended with a whole bunch of celebrities taking the stage to talk about the shows they’re making for the new Apple TV+ service. The boldface names included Steven Spielberg, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston — but for the big finish, Apple brought out Oprah Winfrey.

Apple said last year that it had signed “a unique, multi-year content partnership” with Winfrey. That announcement, however, didn’t include any details about the programs she’d be making.

Winfrey described two documentaries today. First, there’s “Toxic Labor,” looking at the effects of sexual harassment in the workplace. There’s also an untitled, multi-part documentary about mental health.

In addition, Winfrey said she’s working on a new version of her book club with Apple, which she said will be “the biggest, most vibrant, the most stimulating book club on the planet.” The idea is that her interviews with authors can be streamed to Apple stores and devices around the world.

“I want to literally convene a meeting of the minds, connecting us through books,” she said.

More broadly, Winfrey said that with her Apple content, “I want to reach that sweet spot where insight and perspective, truth and tolerance, actually intersect.” And she’s excited to use their platform to get her message out to an enormous audience: “They’re in a billion pockets, y’all. A billion pockets.”