Apple has been under a lot of fire lately from different corners over its App Store policies, from congressional antitrust hearings to its the massive fight started by Epic Games, and more recently several folks have taken issue with comments made by Apple CEO Tim Cook that the company treats all developers equally, pointing to the fact that Apple has actually signed backroom deals with big companies like Amazon.
Critics of Cook’s comments pointed specifically to a deal that Apple made with Amazon a few years back in order to woo Amazon Prime into the fold, which had been a long holdout on Apple’s TV platform.
While the news of the Apple-Amazon deal seemed to fly in the face of Cook’s insistence that Apple treated its developers equally, the reality is a bit more complicated; after all, with so many different types of apps on the App Store, equal treatment doesn’t necessarily mean that every single app has to be lumped into the same category, and arguably it shouldn’t preclude Apple from setting up special programs for certain specific types of apps, and as long as any developer who makes one of those apps can qualify to participate, Apple can still justifiably say that it’s treating its developers equally.
Unfortunately, this may be an area where Apple has been bitten by a lack of transparency. The Apple-Amazon deal actually shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise to anybody who was paying attention, as we already heard earlier this year that Apple has created a special program for premium video providers whereby it would take a smaller cut in exchange for their commitment to embracing the features of Apple’s ecosystem.
The problem is that Apple never actually told anybody about this program — at least not anybody outside of the TV industry.
When the news about the program broke this past spring, after it was discovered that Amazon was suddenly able to offer purchases and rentals through Amazon Prime without using Apple’s in-app payment system, Apple shared that at least two other “qualifying premium video entertainment apps” — Altice One and Canal+ — were also participating in the new program.
At the time, Apple also described it as “an established program for premium subscription video entertainment providers,” but didn’t offer too many additional details.
To be fair, since the program was limited to “premium” providers, there’s a good chance that Apple didn’t feel the need to publish information about the program publicly. More likely, it had been reaching out to various providers to offer them the program directly.
Of course, since that sounds very much like the definition of a “backroom deal,” it certainly didn’t look good on Apple when the news came out, and as a result the company has decided to be more transparent about it, sharing more information about exactly how the program works, and who is involved.
Apple Video Partner Program
Apple has now published a public-facing web page on its developer site outlining exactly what this partner program entails, while also adding that it’s been around since 2016.
Since 2016, the Apple Video Partner Program has enabled premium subscription video providers to participate in a new TV watching experience on the Apple TV app, helping customers discover the world’s best premium video content in one app, across all their devices.Apple
For the most part, the page outlines exactly what we’ve known since earlier this year: It’s designed for apps that “deliver premium subscription video entertainment services,” and in order to participate in the program those apps are required to “integrate with a number of Apple technologies.”
Specifically, this means that they must support Universal Search, Siri, AirPlay, and single sign-on or zero sign-on features. In exchange for this commitment, Apple promises to feature these apps on the Apple TV and take only a 15% commission on in-app subscriptions in those apps.
Apple even goes so far as to describe how the Amazon Prime purchase and rental system fits in, stating that as long as developers enable in-app purchasing for content, they are free to use existing customers’ own payment methods for “additional video transactions” within the app.
In practical terms, this is exactly what Amazon is now doing with the Prime app. Users who have already subscribed to Amazon Prime directly will use Amazon’s payment system when purchasing or renting items through the Apple TV or iPhone/iPad Amazon Prime app. Customers who don’t have a payment method on file with Amazon directly will automatically be pushed to Apple’s in-app purchasing system instead.
A Big List of Providers
While the news we heard earlier this year suggested that this program had only seen uptake from a very small handful of premium providers, it turns out that the number of companies participating is actually pretty massive.
Apple says that as of right now, there are over 130 premium subscription video entertainment providers worldwide who are signed on, including of course Amazon Prime Video, but also the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Disney+, HBO Max, MUBI, STARZ, and many more.
This is a pretty stark contrast to the three names that Apple mentioned in the spring, although to be fair in that statement Apple was specifically referring to those companies that were offering movies and TV shows for sale or rent via the program, which of course is still a much shorter list. The bulk of the companies are most likely just subscription providers taking advantage of the smaller 15% cut that is available to them under the program.
Notably, even Disney+, which added Mulan as an in-app purchase earlier this month, doesn’t seem to have gone out of its way to use a direct purchase method, even though it’s technically eligible to do so. Then again, based on Apple’s policies, those who subscribed to Disney+ directly within the iOS or tvOS apps will use the same payment method for in-app purchases, so it is possible that those who subscribed directly to Disney+ via the company’s website may have also been billed for Mulan in the same way.
There are also some names that are conspicuously absent from Apple’s list of participants, however, most notably including Netflix, which has been generally resistant to integrating with any of Apple’s tvOS features since the very beginning in the first place, and has probably decided that even 15% is too much to give up when it can obviously still easily attract subscribers directly.
Then again, so can Disney+, and it’s clearly shown a willingness to play ball with Apple here.
The fact that Apple has published information on the program is a great move toward transparency, but it probably won’t make a lot of difference in practical terms; chances are that even before Apple opened up about the program those providers that were eligible to participate knew everything about it already.
However, Apple does spell out the eligibility requirements just to make sure everyone is clear that it’s really not playing favourites here, but rather simply creating a program that only applies to those companies that are big enough to have their own video subscription services.
To be eligible, companies have to be delivering their own subscription service, and it has to be for premium video entertainment content. This leaves out apps like YouTube, as well as third-party client apps from smaller developers. The subscription in this case has to be for the service, and not for the app.
Developers must then commit to ensuring that their apps are available on both iOS and tvOS, support AirPlay, and tie into Universal Search, Siri, and Apple’s TV app — and do so in all regions where the service and those features are available. If apps include live content, they also need to support Apple’s Live Tune-In feature.
Apps that tie into a TV provider also need to support single sign-on or zero sign-on to make the user experience as seamless as possible, and developers also need to allow users to make purchases and subscriptions through Apple’s in-app purchase system.
The program is also only available in select regions at this point, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.