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Entertainment Media/Telecom

Apple to Launch TV Subscription Service Globally

Apple is planning to launch its upcoming TV subscription service in more than 100 countries, three people familiar with the company’s plans told The Information. That would quickly make Apple a competitor with both Amazon and Netflix, both of whose video services are widely available internationally.

Apple is working to launch its new TV service in the U.S. in the first half of next year and will make the app available globally in the following months, the people said. It will include Apple’s original programs free to Apple device owners and also will enable users to sign up for TV network subscriptions owned by other companies, just as Amazon Prime Video subscribers can do through the Amazon Channels feature in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan, the people said. Bloomberg first reported about Apple’s plans to sell networks’ subscriptions through the app.

The Takeaway
• Apple to launch TV app in 100+ countries
• Apple in talks with media companies for programming
• Move could help compete with Netflix, Amazon

A spokesman for Apple declined to comment.

The speed at which Apple is moving shows how it is trying to catch up to rivals that have been operating video streaming services for years. Amazon Prime Video is in 200 countries while Netflix is in more than 190 countries. The head start its rivals enjoy could make it tough for Apple’s new service to take off. Another issue is that the service will only be available to owners of its devices, including Apple TVs.

Apple lags rivals in many key categories: In the first quarter of this year, for instance, Apple TV had 28% of the U.S. market for streaming devices, behind Roku with 37%, according to Parks Associates. In smartphones globally, Apple has about 15% of the market to Android’s 85%, according to IDC.

It makes sense for Apple to position its subscription service as a way to make television viewing easier for customers, rather than try to go head-to-head with Amazon and Netflix on original programming, said Tim Nollen, an analyst at Macquarie.

This is particularly true as the number of over-the-top services continues to grow globally. “Having the ability to make life easier for consumers in this fragmented, over-the-top marketplace makes sense,” he said.

Apple has started to negotiate with programmers about what it will pay to carry their shows and movies for the offering, the people said. But the programming on service isn’t likely to be the same in every country. For one thing, the ability to sign up for other TV networks will be limited by the fact that some networks aren’t available in every country. HBO, for instance, which is available through Amazon Channels in the U.S., has licensed its programs exclusively to other services like Sky in Britain. That would preclude HBO from being available in those countries. Amazon, notably, which has had success with Amazon Channels in the U.S., only offers it in four countries but offers Prime Video in 200.

Apple has reportedly set a $1 billion budget for 2018 content acquisitions and programming for its original content, and has signed deals with the likes of Oprah Winfrey to do shows for its service as well as a deal with Sesame Workshop for children’s programming.

It is unclear how the original programming will appear next to media companies’ channels, which is an issue as some try to negotiate with Apple about getting their shows on the app, said another person familiar with these discussions.

Jessica Toonkel is a New York-based reporter for The Information covering media and how the industry is being disrupted by technology. Before that, she spent seven years at Reuters covering a range of topics including media, mergers and acquisitions and financial services. She can be found on Twitter @jtoonkel.