TECH: Apple’s Reported Content Bundle Plans Could Pave the Way for Much Bigger Things

Apple’s (AAPL) push to turn its services businesses into a $50 billion revenue stream could yield some interesting twists and turns.

On Wednesday, The Information reported that Apple is thinking about launching ” a single subscription offering that would encompass its original TV shows, music service and magazine articles.” No details were given on how much Apple will charge for such a service, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see it cost more than the $10 per month currently charged for Apple Music’s individual plan.

With The New York Times having previously reported that Apple is “targeting somewhere between March 2019 and the summer of that year to roll out its slate of new programming,” it’s possible that a music/video/magazine subscription bundle arrives in about a year’s time.

  • One basic reason why Apple would choose to launch such a bundle: It’s far from clear at this point that a standalone subscription for the company’s original shows and movies would be a large-scale hit, particularly in the near-term. Though the listof Apple’s upcoming originals does include productions featuring the likes of Oprah, Jennifer Aniston and M. Night Shyamalan, as well as a production from Sesame Street creators Sesame Workshop, the size of Apple’s 2019 video service library will likely pale relative to what Netflix (NFLX) , Amazon.com (AMZN) and Hulu are able to offer their subscribers.

On the other hand, bundling the video content with Apple Music — perhaps for a small premium to Apple Music’s current prices — would give Apple a valuable way to differentiate its music service relative to Spotify (SPOT) , which currently has 75 million-plus subs to Apple Music’s 40 million-plus, as well as contend with smaller rivals that are either bundling video offerings with their music services (Alphabet’s (GOOGL) YouTube, whose $12-per-month YouTube Premium service provides originals and ad-free YouTube viewing to go with music) or discounting their music services (Amazon, which charges just $79 per year, or $6.58 per month, to Prime members for its Music Unlimited service).

Magazines could also help a bit, depending on how broad Apple’s selection is. Amazon, it should be noted, includes both books and magazines within its Prime Reading library, which is bundled with regular Prime subscriptions.

Long before The Information’s report came out, at least a few people had argued that Apple should roll out more comprehensive subscription services for its giant installed base. However, the subscription plans that they envisioned often weren’t restricted to content, but also covered hardware and/or non-content services.

In May, Matthew Ball, the former head of strategy for Amazon Studios, made a casefor the launching of subscription services that could cover not just music and video content, but also other services such as iCloud storage and AppleCare support, and also (notably) the right to upgrade to a new version of one or more devices following the passing of a given amount of time (for example, one iPhone upgrade every two years).

  • “This model provides benefits across all of Apple’s business,” Ball argued. “Service adoption and usage would likely increase…as would device retention rates (suddenly the cost of switching to a competitor’s device goes up and you no longer encounter the decision process of getting a new device). Monthly fees and bundle-related discounts would also make it easier to add additional iOS devices to an iOS household…and stop ‘mostly Apple’ households from using one or two devices from the company’s competitors.”

The launching of such subscription plans would also mesh with a general trend among both consumers and businesses — a trend that covers everything from content to software to IT hardware to transportation — towards the substitution of physical goods ownership with subscription or pay-as-you-go services. And it’s worth noting here that in industries where this trend has really taken off, such as music and enterprise software, it has served to increase the total amount of revenue produced by the industry.

Tim Cook stated in early 2017 that Apple, which had $25.8 billion in Services segment revenue in calendar 2016, wanted to double its Services revenue by 2020. With the help of strong App Store, Apple Music and (to a lesser extent) iCloud Storage revenue growth, as well as rising search ad revenue-sharing payments from Google, Apple has already made good progress towards that goal. Services revenue reached $30 billion in fiscal 2017 (ended in Sep. 2017), and the consensus is for it to rise 23% in fiscal 2018 to $36.8 billion.

The launching of a more comprehensive content subscription service in 2019 would give Apple’s services push a fresh shot in the arm. And the creation of subscription plans that pair services with hardware upgrades would do a lot more still.

The latter of course would serve to cannibalize some of Apple’s traditional hardware sales, and would cause a short-term revenue hit as up-front hardware sales are replaced with monthly subscription payments. However, if this transition ends up being anything like the ones that, say Microsoft and Adobe, have witnessed for their revenue bases, Apple investors won’t be complaining about the move’s long-term effects.

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