Although Apple’s strategy for its flagship Apple TV+ streaming service has been to focus on producing its own original content, from recent news it appears that the company is starting to realize that it may not be enough, and lately it’s been using the huge pile of cash that it’s sitting on to pick up some pretty significant Hollywood blockbusters so that they can be used to draw in new subscribers as well as bolstering Apple’s image as a mover and shaker in Hollywood.
This has become even more relevant during the ongoing global health crisis, as shelter-in-place orders and general recommendations for social distancing shut down most of the company’s flagship original productions, leaving many wondering when we’ll see the promised second seasons of hits like The Morning Show and For All Mankind. Only Mythic Quest has managed to pull off a special episode while the others remain on hiatus.
Although Apple has been content to produce smaller films like The Banker, more recently it looks like it’s starting to pull out all of the stops to bring some of the biggest pictures of the year into the fold.
Last week, Apple scored the rights to a major Tom Hanks film, paying close to $70 million to Sony in a heated bidding war with Netflix and possibly other streaming providers. While the WWII naval drama, Greyhound, was originally slated for a theatrical release next month, Sony realized that it wasn’t going to do particularly well in theatres in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, so it conceded that if it was going to debut at all, it needed to be on a streaming service.
Now Apple is about to score its second major coup by getting the streaming rights to what Deadline calls “one of the highest profile films in Hollywood” — Killers of the Flower Moon.
The new film, which is not only directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese, also boasts both Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead roles, and on top of that it’s also the first time Apple has broken a deal with a Hollywood powerhouse as massive as Paramount.
According to Deadline, the deal is all but done — Paramount only has to sign off on it — but once the i’s and dotted and the t’s are crossed, Killers of the Flower Moon will be an “Apple Original” that will be distributed theatrically around the globe by Paramount.
Nervous about the high price tag of the film, Paramount allowed Scorsese and DiCaprio’s manager to shop the project around, and once it was on the market, the fight to score the rights to it not only involved the big streaming players like Netflix, but also traditional studios like Universal and MGM. It’s unclear if Apple brought anything to the table other than money, but Apple has very deep pockets, and that alone may have been enough to carry the day.
This project would have Apple backing the project, which is said could cost around $200 million to produce, as well as becoming the creative studio, however it also gives Apple a massive leg up in terms of the kind of big theatrical releases that Apple has been looking for all along; unlike rivals such as Netflix who are willing to do the minimum theatrical runs to appease the Academy Awards, Apple actually wants to run its feature films in theatres.
As for the movie itself, Killers of the Flower Moon is based on a book of the same name, which is a mystery about a series of murders of wealthy Osage NativeAmericans in Oklahoma in the 1920s, and the investigation that gave birth to the FBI.
This is landmark stuff, Scorsese joining together his two most important acting collaborators, who haven’t worked together meaningfully in a film since This Boy’s Life [in 1993].Deadline
However, it’s difficult to built a streaming service on new blockbuster releases alone, and Apple is continuing to pursue other avenues, including what it turns out may be some creative ways to leverage older content into its library.
We heard last week that Apple was pursuing older, non-original shows in an attempt to provide a back catalog of content for subscribers to enjoy, although at the time it was also apparent that Apple wasn’t looking to adding any big-name shows, and more recent news has illuminated that strategy that Apple may actually be taking here.
In a move that seems more in harmony with Apple’s approach to Apple TV+, it doesn’t look like the company will be licensing old content just for the sake of having it, but may actually just use it to tie into new projects it’s working on. This certainly seems to the case with its latest acquisition, Fraggle Rock.
For those who may not remember the show, Fraggle Rock was a big hit for kids back in the 1980s when the entire Muppet movement was all the rage, and now Apple has signed a partnership with the Jim Henson Company — the creator of the original Muppets — to reboot Fraggle Rock on Apple TV+.
However, Apple isn’t just making new episodes — according to Vulture, it’s also acquired all of the rights to run the old ones, a total of 96 episodes that aired from 1983-1987, and the entire four-season run is already available on Apple TV+, alongside the first six episodes of the reboot, Fraggle Rock: Rock On.
So far, the rebooted episodes are merely a series of shorts that are intended to help kids understand life in the midst of social distancing by showing “how we are all connected together through friendship,” and feature guest stars such as Alanis Morissette, Jason Mark, and Neil Patrick Harris. Much like Mythic Quest: Quarantine, the episodes were all shot from the homes of the production team and individual artists using iPhone 11 phones.
However, these shorts should be seen not only as great episodes for your kids to watch right now, but also just a set of teasers for the full series, which will arrive in the coming weeks to join Apple’s other groundbreaking lineup of kids’ content on Apple TV+, including Snoopy in Space, Helpsters, and Ghostwriter.
It’s About Supporting Originals
According to a source speaking with Vulture, while Apple was enthusiastic about the reboot of Fraggle Rock, it didn’t originally plan to pick up the back catalog of previous episodes until it was pointed out that viewers would have had to go with HBO to watch old episodes of the series, and it was Henson execs who pitched the idea of bundling everything in one deal so that Apple could become the home to all things Fraggle.
Going forward, this is most likely the logic behind any plans that Apple has to acquire older shows — using them as inspirations to do something new. In fact, as studios like Disney, NBCUniversal, and WarnerMedia each create their own streaming providers, they’re naturally going to reserve all of their best content for themselves, so there’s little point in Apple trying to build a content library for its own sake.
On the other hand, however, if Apple were to get the rights to produce a new James Bond film, it could conceivably license the entire back catalogue of films, making itself the home for “all things Bond.” The same could be true if Apple were to take a classic show like Cheers or Frasier and reboot it (and there have been rumours of a Frasier reboot in the works), in which case it would make sense to bring along all of the original episodes as well.
In essence, it’s still going to be about making new “original” shows to tell great stories, and so it stands to reason that if there’s a backstory to those shows, it all forms part of the same narrative, and would logically fit into Apple’s content portfolio.