Apple Sets Aside ‘$1 Billion War Chest’ for Hollywood Programming

Apple has earmarked $1 billion to acquire and produce original television content over the next year to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

The plans could see Apple procure and produce as many as 10 television shows, according to people familiar with the matter, thanks to a budget figure that is about half of what Time Warner's HBO spent on content last year and around the same amount as Amazon spent in 2013, after it announced its own move into original programming.


The budget will reportedly be controlled by Hollywood veterans Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, who were hired by Apple in June from Sony to oversee content acquisition and video strategy. Apple also recently hired former WGN America President Matt Cherniss to oversee development of the company’s worldwide video unit. Cherniss previously worked with Erlicht and Van Amburg to bring the Sony shows "Underground" and "Outsiders" to WGN.
Mr. Van Amburg and Mr. Erlicht have begun meeting with Hollywood agents and holding discussions about shows Apple could acquire, the people familiar said. Mr. Matt Cherniss has movie experience, having worked as a production executive at Warner Bros.
WSJ notes that not only will Apple have a fight on its hands going up against rivals already heavily invested in original content, but it will also have to avoid jeopardizing its 15 percent cut of subscriptions from its App Store for services like Netflix and HBO GO.

As for the cost of programming, this can vary widely, from more than $2 million an episode for a comedy to more than $5 million for a drama, while high-end shows such as "Game of Thrones" can cost over $10 million per episode to produce.

For its video service to gain traction, Apple needs at least one hit, according to the people familiar with the plan who spoke to the newspaper. The company's initial video efforts include "Planet of the Apps", which was launched in June on Apple Music, and "Carpool Karaoke," which was launched last week. Apple has not revealed ratings for the shows but both have been criticized by reviewers.

Apple is hoping its efforts in original programming will bolster the appeal of iTunes movie rentals and other offerings through the store. Last year, iTunes generated an estimated $4.1 billion in revenue, but its share of the movie rental-and-sales market has declined to less than 35 percent from 50 percent in 2012, according to the report.
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