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Apple's TV Plus puts on a hell of a show. It just wasn't for us



 A group of more than 30 stars stand in a clean white apple lobby

Apple gathered talent from Apple TV Plus for a group photo at the Steve Jobs Theater.


Art Streiber / Apple
                                                

Walking up the blustery path to Apple's big event Monday I had a lot of questions about the gadget giant's big-league streaming TV ambitions . But I left the Steve Jobs with few answers.

Apple stopped at a show for me, a tech reporter at her first Apple event the moment the lights went up to reveal Steven Spielberg to a standing ovation. And it wasn't putting on a show for you – the customer and prospective subscriber – anymore either. If it had been, Apple might have us how much will it cost, whether its shows' episodes will drop at once or how many programs will be available to launch.

Instead, from Spielberg to Oprah Winfrey and all the stars in, Apple brought his Hollywood talent to Cupertino, California, to publicly worship them and their craft.

Don't believe me? Apple literally puts them on pedestals.

"It appeared to be in the industry that they can attract high-quality talent and they're willing to spend," BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk said in an interview Thursday. "They are not selling this to end users."

The stars and filmmakers on display Monday served as a reminder that Apple loves the creative community – and the feeling is mutual. Not only did it get Hollywood icons and up-and-comers to praise Apple, Monday's presentation showed itself Apple has enough power to get Oprah – and Spielberg-level wattage to show up and effuse about their excitement to work with the company

Despite my hopes, Apple's event did not set its talent loose to start gabbing about their projects publicly. Apple's event lifted the auction or secrecy over its programming – but quickly dropped it back down. I contacted representatives for more than 30 actors, actresses and filmmakers present in the Steve Jobs Theater that day. None would share reactions to the event on the record.

But it did mean the assembled celebrities could litter their social feeds with hot fuzzies for Apple .

The result is a hard reset on the perception of Apple's relationship with its talent.

Reporting up to this week often depicted Apple as clueless contributors in the high-octane shows they've booked. Carpool Karaoke, one of Apple's first programs at original programming on its Apple Music subscription service, was sent back to creators to remove "foul language and references to vaginal hygiene," according to Bloomberg. Apple executives were allegedly "intrusive" about how their programs depict technology, with one of Tim's frequent notes to one producer reportedly being, "don't be so mean!"

(Apple didn't respond to a message seeking comment for this article.)

Putting all the stars on stage meant "it sounds like [Apple’s] great to work with," Laura Martin, senior internet and media analyst at Needham and Co., said Thursday. "You can't buy Steven Spielberg … You're not going to work with you unless you're great to work with." board.

For one, it's paying top dollar. Just Netflix, a company that constantly puts much of traditional Hollywood on edge, has talent flocking to its big budgets and huge base of viewers. Even among the Apple stars assembled at Cupertino this week, several are Netflix talent too.

Michelle Dockery, best known as Lady Mary on Downton Abbey, will star in Apple's Defending Jacob, after she was nominated for an Emmy for Netflix's Godless. Days before Brie Larson was posing for that eye-popping group photo in Apple's sleek theater lobby, she was posting the trailer to her directorial debut, Unicorn Store, from Netflix.

On the flip side, some of Spielberg's interpreting appearances at Apple – and his past dismissiveness about Netflix as a film distributor – are the legendary director taking a side in the coming Apple vs. Netflix heavyweight bolt

Unlike Netflix, Apple doesn't have a single video subscriber yet. But it has 900 million active iPhones in everyone's pockets and what is estimated to be a $ 2 billion annual budget for programming. Even without Apple's business, any company with that network of distribution and that much money to invest would not meet with Hollywood's elite.

If Apple's message to customers was that it had molded itself into a program that is going to rival HBO or Netflix, it delivered it mostly with sleight of hand. Apple's celebrity presenters had the chance to create excitement about their projects – and Apple's time-tested stagecraft certainly put all its talent in the best possible light.

But ultimately we only learned crumbs of new information. We learned the titles of some shows and the general plots to some episodes of Spielberg's Amazing Stories series or Kumail Nanjian's Little America. Sure, Apple gave us a sizzle with snippets from many of its shows. But with multiple shows already in the can, Apple couldn't put together a trailer or two?

Whatever Hollywood thought of the show Apple put on Monday, we – the people that would be its viewers – are still waiting for Apple to put on a show for us. If Apple TV Plus is really, as Tim Cook puts it Monday, "unlike anything that's been done before," it has more explaining to do.


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