Apple TV+ One Year In: Slow And Steady Wins the Race?

22 November, 2020

Apple TV+ launched globally on November 1, 2019. With an enormous amount of fanfare, an eye watering budget, and star studded casting, expectations for the new streamer were high even before its launch. One year in, we take a look at how the streamer has performed in its first year.

Apple TV Plus Top Premieres.jpg

Above are Apple TV+'s most in-demand premieres in its first year. All are new digital original series. This is part of Apple's strategy to fill their platform with their own content rather than engaging in bidding wars to license shows. The main takeaway from the above result is that all these series have all done decently well. Whether "decently well" constitutes a success, (with Game of Thrones level budgets for series) is still up for debate.

Regardless of cost efficiency, none of the above series has been a flop and interestingly no single series has emerged as Apple's dominant hit. Defending Jacob has been the streamer's biggest premiere to date, averaging 29.5 times the demand of the average series in its first 60 days. But, demand for the next three biggest Apple premieres - Truth Be Told, Servant, and See - is around the same level. Also, this is well short of demand for other streamers' flagship tentpoles like Netflix's Stranger Things (Season 3 averaged 205x demand in its first 60 days) and Disney+'s The Mandalorian (averaged 106x demand in its first 60 days). Even comparing against CBS All Access's flagship tentpole, Star Trek: Discovery, Defending Jacob falls noticeably short. Star Trek: Discovery averaged 68 times the average demand in its first 60 days following its premiere. In short, Apple TV+ has yet to find a tentpole that will serve as a lightening rod for audiences attention and be part of a larger cultural awareness like these other tentpoles are.

One additional insight emerges from the above chart. Apple TV+'s four debut series that benefitted from enormous investment and promotion - The Morning Show, See, For All Mankind, and Dickinson - have not been its biggest successes. Instead, shows which were part of its second wave of releases have had the most successful premieres to date. In fact, in chronological order of release, Servant, Truth Be Told, and Defending Jacob have become increasingly more in-demand. This seems to indicate that Apple TV+ has been finding its footing and its content has resonated with audiences more following its initial launch.


The above chart compares Apple TV+'s biggest premiere to date, Defending Jacob, with its most recent hit, Ted Lasso. Defending Jacob had a stellar premiere, peaking at 66.8 times the demand of the average series following its initial release. However, it was not able to surpass this high water mark even as it continued releasing episodes. Conversely, Ted Lasso was able to consistently grow audience demand throughout its release, showing that audiences discovered this series gradually. By week 8, demand for Ted Lasso was exceeding demand for Defending Jacob at the same point in its release.


Examining Apple TV+'s demand share for digital originals over its first year of existence tells a story of consistency. It has been able to hold a steady share of audience attention over the course of the entire year which has fluctuated less than other platforms' share of demand, staying within 3.7 - 4.7%. Contrast this with Disney+, which peaked at 7.6% of demand for all digital originals in December 2019 when The Mandalorian had its first season finale but hit a low point with a 4.5% share of demand. Apple TV+ hasn't had a dominating hit like this - instead it has multiple solid but not amazingly in-demand series. Therefore, its share of demand has held more steady over time.

Another thing to note - The share of demand for a digital original series from a platform in the "other" bucket (smaller platforms including HBO Max, Peacock, and Quibi) has steadily increased each month since March from 15.3% to 18.6% of all demand. This is a result of increasing competition and the entry of smaller players into the market with their own digital originals. However, Apple TV+ has remained relatively unscathed by these new competitors.

Apple TV+ has built a respectable catalog in its first year and has managed to hold its own against competition. This is a solid foundation from which to grow further. However, it is missing the tentpole show that is a critical ingredient in the success of other SVODs. It is important to note that Apple TV+ is not a pure play SVOD in the way Netflix is. It serves as a way to keep customers in the Apple ecosystem or entice them to join. With that in mind, maybe Apple TV+'s model will fit its needs. It could be that a catalog of "good enough" content is a more powerful tipping point than a single mega-hit for consumers on the fence about whether to buy an iPhone. Similarly, for retention purposes it makes sense for Apple to evenly spread its content investments to ensure its users have at least one show they are attached to as opposed to going all in on one Mandalorian-esque hit.

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