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Apple Really Wants to Win an Oscar

By Evan Niu, CFA – Jun 17, 2019 at 7:17PM

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Taking home an Academy Award could legitimize Apple's confusing entry into video streaming.

There's nothing quite like the validation of winning an Oscar. Netflix's (NFLX -0.27%) first feature film to win an Oscar was 2018's Icarus, a documentary that detailed the Russian Olympic doping scandal, and followed up that Academy Award win with 2019's Roma. With Apple's (AAPL 2.44%) forthcoming Apple TV+ video-streaming service, it's been clear that the Mac maker is prioritizing quality over quantity, with the company trotting out some of the highest-profile names in Hollywood to unveil the service in March, including Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey.

"Because they're in a billion pockets, y'all, a billion pockets," Oprah explained on why she was partnering with Apple.

Apple TV+ logo

Image source: Apple.

Hoping for a cheap Oscar

The New York Post reports that Apple is very much after an Oscar with its slate of original films that will launch on Apple TV+. The Cupertino tech behemoth is funding six "small-budget" movies that could help Apple bring home an Academy Award, and is willing to spend an estimated $5 million to $30 million per film, according to the report.

Netflix had acquired Icarus for just $5 million and Roma had an estimated production budget of just $15 million, so Oscars can be had for that kind of money if the underlying content is good enough. The dominant video streamer spent far more -- an estimated $40 million to $60 million -- just promoting Roma for Oscar consideration. In contrast, the most expensive Oscar winner (not Best Picture) to date was 2009's Avatar, with an estimated production budget of $280 million.

The initiative is reportedly separate from Apple's partnership with indie film powerhouse A24, which has garnered 25 Oscar nominations to date.

Quality first, quantity later

Original content libraries take an extremely long time to build up, not to mention billions of dollars. Apple clearly has the latter but needs more time to grow a catalog of exclusives to help it sell Apple TV+ at a time when every media company is launching an over-the-top (OTT) streaming service (if they haven't already).

Disney (DIS -2.21%) is preparing to launch Disney+ with literal decades of movies and TV shows. The House of Mouse has more Oscar wins than any other company in history, and is set to own all of popular video-streaming service Hulu in five years. Historically, Netflix had been dismissed as focusing too much on quantity over quality, but the company has now shown that it can balance both.

"Quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive," Netflix original content exec Cindy Holland said last year. "We are maintaining quality as we grow by hiring brilliant talent who are passionate about the stories they want to tell and giving them creative space."

Given time, Apple might be able to build up an expansive catalog of movies and shows, provided that Apple TV+ gains enough traction to warrant doing so. But for now, scoring an Oscar could legitimize its confusing foray into original content.

Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has the following options: short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple and long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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