The Upgrade

What Apple Needs for TV+ to Succeed

A-list talent alone won’t cut it

Lance Ulanoff
Published in
4 min readMar 26, 2019


Credit: Apple

WeWe used to wonder if Apple would make an actual TV set. Instead, it became a TV studio. Before Netflix, Apple would have seemed like an unlikely content creation house. Back in 2013, Tim Cook told journalists Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, “We never felt we needed to own content. We need access to great content… We don’t have the skill to produce and direct.”

That has clearly changed. Apple has hired major talent to produce, direct, and star in a cluster of original programs. On Monday, the company held its equivalent of the network upfronts in, naturally, the Steve Jobs Theater on the Apple Park Campus in Cupertino, California. The parade of A-list talent explaining the premise of each of their shows would have fit nicely in any network’s annual advertiser preview.

Apple TV+ isn’t a television, but it is Apple’s big and ultimate TV bet. The company will sink at least $1 billion into fresh content, and it has attracted stars like Oprah Winfrey with a pitch you might sum up as “think different — about TV.”

One thing that struck me during Cook’s introduction is how he characterized the streaming platform as something more than just television, as if it had a higher purpose than merely attracting eyeballs. The stars certainly seemed to buy it. When Aquaman’s Jason Momoa asked audience members to close their eyes and listen to what I thought was an ASMR session, he quickly pivoted to a discussion about the way blind people experience the world. His and Alfre Woodard’s show is a postapocalyptic tale in which the majority of survivors are blind.

Photos by Lance Ulanoff (Top) and Noah Berger/AFP/Getty

Apple understands the hurdles it faces in trying to beat Netflix. The big red streaming platform pours billions more into its own original shows and movies, which are overtaking licensed content, and it has built a formula for must-see TV. One complaint I have with Netflix is that because it…



Lance Ulanoff

Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.