What Apple’s new streaming service means for UK viewers

The celebrity-packed launch for Apple TV+ has certainly got people talking – but will it offer UK users value for money? RadioTimes.com's On Demand Editor investigates

Actors Steve Carell, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston speak during the launch of Apple TV+ (Getty)

Apple has finally launched its much-hyped TV streaming service, Apple TV+.

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Long billed as a potential rival to Netflix, Apple’s TV service is essentially split into two key elements.

The first, a revamped Apple TV app, will be released in May 2019, and aims to bring multiple different TV apps and subscriptions into one, easy-to-use platform. Whether streaming or downloading, watching via mobile or in your living room, the app claims to deliver “TV the way you’ve always wanted to see it”.

The second part of the equation, Apple TV+, will contain all of Apple’s original TV content.

From series directed by Steven Spielberg to an online book club led by Oprah Winfrey, Apple’s exclusive shows are designed to pull new users in and compete for your attention against the likes of Stranger Things and The Crown.

Apple TV+ will arrive in Autumn 2019.

This is the basic offering – but what could it mean for viewers here in the UK? Let’s break it down…

Will Apple’s new TV app make it easier to watch US TV shows in the UK?

A key part of Apple’s TV app is the ability to watch content from multiple different streaming and pay-TV services in one place.

In the USA at least, networks including HBO, Showtime and Starz are on board alongside streaming services including Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.

It’s a strong proposition, allowing Apple users to make a single payment from one account rather than manage a plethora of different subscriptions. Viewers can search for what they want in one app, start watching on one device and pick up where they left off on another.

What Apple's new TV app will look like – Showtime will be available for users in the US (Apple)
What Apple’s new TV app will look like – Showtime will be available for users in the US (Apple)

However, it is not currently clear how many of these networks will be available in the UK.

The problem, as so often with global TV, is one of rights.

Sky already has content deals with both HBO and Showtime, while hit Starz series such as American Gods and Outlander currently stream on Amazon Prime Video. Hulu, meanwhile, isn’t available in the UK at all.

Sky’s multi-year, £250 million deal with HBO is a key selling point for Sky Atlantic: as well as hit series including Game of Thrones and Westworld, the UK broadcaster has also created a number of original series with HBO including the upcoming drama Chernobyl.

Showtime meanwhile has been a partner of Sky since 2016; together they made award-winning drama Patrick Melrose starring Benedict Cumberbatch – a sign of their successful transatlantic relationship.

Currently Apple TV does not offer HBO or Showtime in the UK; with Sky’s deals with these broadcasters set to run until at least 2020, it is unlikely that this will change in time for Apple’s TV revamp in May.

Is Apple’s TV app really that revolutionary?

Apple’s ambition to become a single hub for multiple different broadcasters is arguably similar to what Sky already does with its own on demand services.

Sky Q combines traditional scheduled TV with on demand box-sets, allows users to watch via multiple devices and search through different apps all in one place. Significantly, Sky also includes Netflix as part of its Sky Q platform – Netflix won’t be available via Apple TV.

Sky’s services undoubtedly come at a premium – but so do Apple devices.

Amazon too has attempted to gather different subscriptions together with its Amazon Channels service, which allows users to pay for individual packages with broadcasters such as Starz and Eurosport directly through their Prime accounts.

Apple is certainly not the only company therefore attempting to cut through the chaos of modern TV streaming.

Will UK viewers want to watch Apple’s original shows?

While the upgraded TV app was highlighted during the Apple showcase, the main event was undoubtedly the launch of Apple TV+ with stars including Steven Spielberg, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, JJ Abrams and Oprah Winfrey.

These original series will form the bedrock of Apple’s new subscription TV service this Autumn. Watch the sizzle reel above to get a taste of what’s to come.

Actors Steve Carell, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston speak about their new TV series The Morning Show during the launch of Apple TV+ (Getty)
Actors Steve Carell, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston speak about their new TV series The Morning Show during the launch of Apple TV+ (Getty)

Witherspoon and Aniston star alongside Steve Carrell in The Morning Show, a drama-cum-satire of American morning TV. It may at first seem US-focussed, but you only have to think of Good Morning Britain to realise that the show will chime with UK viewers too.

Meanwhile, British screenwriter Steven Knight – the creator of Peaky Blinders – is the man behind the post-apocalyptic series See starring Jason Momoa.

Spielberg is directing a revival of his sci-fi anthology series Amazing Stories, while Oprah Winfrey is launching documentaries and an online book club as part of her multi-year content deal with Apple.

All of these shows certainly have the potential to be hits both in the US and abroad. However, the reality is that Apple is only just beginning a journey that Netflix has been on for a long time.

The main difference from a UK perspective is that Netflix now commissions a number of shows created by and starring British talent. From The Crown to Sex Education and After Life (not to mention Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror), there is a well-established streak of British success in the Netflix stable.

Ricky Gervais stars in Netflix series After Life (Netflix)
Ricky Gervais stars in Netflix series After Life (Netflix)

That’s not to say that Apple will not try to do the same in the future – especially with former BBC1 and Channel 4 boss Jay Hunt helping to lead Apple’s original shows.

Perhaps the biggest barrier to Apple’s shows isn’t the content but the platform. Netflix is available on a huge array of phones, tablets, TVs and browsers. At launch, Apple TV+ will be available on Apple devices and a select handful of smart TVs. There was no mention even of a website during the launch event.

Will Apple TV+ be too expensive for UK viewers?

Apple’s entrance into the TV streaming market makes the choice of TV available for UK viewers even more incredible – and more overwhelming.

It means that, along with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube, there is now a fourth major tech player offering ‘must-binge’ original series. Disney’s own streaming service, Disney+, is expected to launch before the year is out, not to mention the BBC and ITV’s own British-based on demand service BritBox.

During Apple’s presentation, there was no mention of how much Apple TV+ will cost. If the company copies the formula it used for its music service, there is likely to be an extensive free trial period for Apple users – but will enough viewers be convinced?

That depends, of course, on how much it costs. At £6-10 per month, Netflix is designed to be the kind of subscription users will happily pay for on top of their existing licence fee and/or pay-TV contract. Ditto Amazon and its £7/99 per month contract for free delivery, music streaming and TV.

Apple’s subscription cost is expected to land around the same mark as these competitors. But remember, unlike Netflix and Amazon, with Apple there is the additional cost of the phone or tablet itself – unless Apple makes TV+ available on other devices.

If you want to watch all the latest and best shows, how much are you willing to spend? How many different TV subscriptions is too many?

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By the end of the year, we might just discover where we’ve truly reached the summit of ‘peak TV’.