Apple Unveils Subscription News, Video Streaming & Game Subscription Services

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Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook speaks during a company product launch event at the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park on March 25, 2019 in Cupertino, Calif. 

After months of fevered speculation, Apple CEO Tim Cook kicked off the company's "special event" by announcing plans for a new, paid subscription news service called Apple News+ that is launching Monday as part of the existing Apple News application.

"We're bringing magazines to Apple News," Cook said at the event on Monday. "This is going to take Apple News to a whole new level. ... This is really important to us. We believe in the power of journalism and the impact it can have on our lives. We believe Apple News + is going to be great for customers and great for publishers."

Roger Rosner, Apple's vice president of applications, said the new service will cost $9.99 per month and include content from more than 300 magazines, spanning a range of topics. "If you were to subscribe to all these titles individually, it would cost you over $8,000 per month," said Rosner. (The first month of use is free and the service can be shared with family for no additional cost.) 

"We are super excited about this," he said. "We’ve got great health magazines and great lifestyle magazines. Magazines for travelers, for foodies, magazines for gear heads: magazines for just about any passion under the sun. And Apple News+ is the only place you’ll find all these magazines in a single package.”

Rosner said that The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal are participating in the new service. He did not mention The Washington Post and The New York Times, which are reportedly sitting out the product. (Billboard and sister publication The Hollywood Reporter are also launch partners for the new, paid service.)

Some publishers have reportedly been concerned by the amount of money Apple will keep from the revenue-sharing partnership. The company did not provide details about the split during Monday's event.

Rosner said the new service will use on-device intelligence to recommend articles to readers, but -- in line with the company's commitment to user privacy -- readership habits will not be provided to advertisers. "We don’t allow advertisers to track you," he said to a big applause. "So what you read about on Apple News will not follow you across the web." 

"Our goal for Apple News+ was simple: We wanted to create the best magazine reader experience ever for a mobile device," he said.

Apple designer Wyatt Mitchell said, who showed off how the new service will look, said that "Apple News+ makes the experience of diving into an issue even more exciting. I can read full magazine issues, no matter where or when."

Apple News+ was born out of the company's purchase of Texture, an all-you-can-read magazine subscription service that was launched as a partnership between major magazine companies and the investment firm KKR. Launched in 2010, Texture suffered from low public awareness and struggled to gain traction and paid users. Monday's event was attended by some of the media industry's heavy-hitters, including Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, editor Norm Pearlstine and New York magazine CEO Pamela Wasserstein.

But Apple's announcements did not stop there. Later, the company unveiled its plan to bundle programming a variety of channels through a new service called Apple TV Channels, that will bundle programming from third-party entertainment companies like Showtime, Starz, HBO and CBS All Access. 

By all means, the TV programming turned out to be the main event, with a number of celebrities taking the stage to announce new programming. After rolling a video (see below) featuring the likes of Steven Spielberg and Jennifer Aniston, Apple trotted out some of the biggest names in Hollywood to talk about the shows they've been working on for the tech giant.

First up was Spielberg, producer of anthology Amazing Stories; Then came Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell to discuss drama The Morning Show. Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard (See) and Kumail Nanjiani (Little America) followed. Then came Big Bird and J.J. Abrams and Sarah Bareilles, who performed the theme song for her new show, Little Voice. But there was a notable dearth of video footage of the shows except a short sizzle reel near the end of the presentation. 

Oprah ended the event with an announcement of two new documentary series for Apple and shared that she's also working on a new book club with the tech company. "They're in a billion pockets, y'all," she said. 

Apple TV+ will be available this fall in over 100 countries. While executive confirmed that it will be an ad-free subscription service, they didn't go into details about the price point for the offering. 

Apple has spent the better part of the last two years putting the pieces in place Monday's TV announcement. After a long flirtation with Hollywood, Apple hired two television veterans in summer 2017 and gave them the task of building up a slate of original programming. Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, respected from their days running Sony Pictures TV, quickly set about striking deals with top-tier talent. Along with the above mentioned partnerships, the company also inked a production pact with A24, the maker of such critically acclaimed films as Moonlight and Lady Bird.

Monday's event marks the first time that Apple has held one of these presentations solely for the purpose of highlighting its services business, which includes software and subscriptions like iTunes, Apple Music, iCloud and Apple Pay. Led by senior vp Eddy Cue, the services division has long played second fiddle to the products that are Apple’s bread and butter, but that’s changing. As people hold onto their iPhones longer, Apple is looking for new ways to keep them in its ecosystem -- and make money off them. In 2017, Cook pledged that he would double quarterly services revenue to $14 billion by 2020. The company is well on its way to reaching its goal. During Apple’s most recent quarter, services brought in $10.9 billion in revenue.

With an install base of 1.4 billion users, Apple has a large audience to which it could promote this programming. Apple Music, a streaming music competitor to Spotify priced at $10 per month, has racked up more than 50 million subscribers in less than four years. (Spotify, which launched in 2008, has 96 million subscribers and 207 million total monthly active users.) 

But the company has also stumbled on its journey to becoming a purveyor of entertainment programming. There has been showrunner turnover at several of its shows and concerns that Apple executives are getting hands on with notes that center around the desire for family-friendly fare and worries over the use of technology on screen.

Apple also unveiled plans for its own games streaming service, called Apple Arcade, coming less than a week after Google unveiled its own gaming platform. Apple's offering will allow players to stream over 100 new and exclusive games on their Apple device for a subscription fee.

Apple already offers mobile games in its App Store, and company CEO Tim Cook boasted that Apple's iOS has already become the "largest gaming platform in the world."

"Unlike streaming services, every game will be playable offline, so you can play anywhere regardless of your internet connection," Ann Thai, senior product manager of the App Store, said onstage.

There will be no limit to the amount of games players can access with their subscription. The games will be curated by "expert editors" at Apple, and family members can play for no additional charge. Pricing for the Apple Arcade service was not revealed.

Games showcased for the Apple Arcade program included familiar characters such as Sonic the Hedgehog and a number of games from Annapurna Interactive. Partners working with Apple Arcade include a number of marquee gaming and entertainment companies including Konami, Sega, Devolver Digital, Disney, Lego and Skybound Entertainment, among many others.

Apple Arcade will be available this fall in over 150 countries worldwide. Google's game service, Stadia, meanwhile, will debut later this year in North America. Both services tout the ability to play games while on the go, but while Apple stressed the exclusivity of its titles, Google didn't spend much time detailing software that would be available on Stadia. Instead, Google emphasized its graphics fidelity, claiming that Stadia is more powerful than both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, as well as the ability to download games in less than five seconds.During the event, Cook also announced advancements to Apple Pay -- noting the service is on target to surpass 10 million transactions this year. He said retail acceptance has passed 70 percent in the United States and is even higher elsewhere -- for example in Australia, where it has reached 99 percent. By end of year, he said the service will be available in more than 40 countries.

The company is also looking to take its payments beyond retailers. Apple Pay is coming to the local transit system in Portland, Oregon, with plans to reach transit in Chicago and New York next. Again, privacy was an emphasis here, as well as with a new service called Apple Card that intends to disrupt the credit card industry with no fees, lower interest rates, better rewards and stronger technology, such as applications using machine learning and location tracking to better organize transaction history.

Edited versions of this article were originally published by The Hollywood Reporter