Everyone's spending a lot more time at home as they practice social distancing. With kids home from school and few social activities in which to partake, many have turned on the television a lot more and started streaming. Overall streaming hours and subscriptions have seen a boost in recent weeks, but one company isn't getting the same level of traction as the rest of the competition.
Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) launched Apple TV+ in November, but less than six months later, nobody's really interested in signing up for it. Apple saw a 10% bump in sign-ups for its streaming service the weekend of March 14 to March 16 compared with the prior weekend, according to streaming analytics firm Antenna. Meanwhile, searches for "Apple TV subscription" fell 14.4% over the past month, according to search marketing analytics firm SEMRush.
Both numbers compare very unfavorably to competitors.
- Disney (NYSE:DIS) saw Disney+ sign-ups triple the weekend of March 14. Search interest grew 43.4%.
- Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) sign-ups increased 47% from the prior week. And searches increased 17.6%. That's despite everyone already knowing about Netflix and 61 million Americans already having a subscription.
- HBO Now, which is owned by AT&T (NYSE:T), saw sign-ups increase 90%. Search interest in HBO Go -- the analog for customers that subscribe to HBO through their cable provider -- increased 23.5%.
- ViacomCBS' (NASDAQ: VIAC) Showtime sign-ups climbed 78%.
It's important to note Antenna and SEMRush don't have all the data, but it appears Apple's failed to draw in an audience at a time when consumers are hungrier than ever for streaming video.
Missing a reason to sign up
Apple made a big bet on original content with the understanding that originals are one of the main reasons people sign up for new streaming services. But so far, it's failed to find a series that really resonates with an audience and drives sign-ups for Apple TV+.
Disney may be an exception to the rule. Its back catalog of rewatchable kid-friendly films could be a lifesaver for some parents trying to work from home while their kids are out of school. Even then, The Mandalorian was a huge hit last winter, and now's a good opportunity to catch up on the Star Wars universe.
The latest season of Westworld just premiered on HBO. Netflix has a constant stream of new series and films debuting. And Showtime's right in the middle of the final season of Homeland.
Meanwhile, Apple's reboot of Amazing Stories, which debuted in early March, saw a lukewarm reception from critics and viewers alike. While Apple's other shows have seen better reviews, and even won some awards, it still hasn't hit on that "you gotta see this!" show.
Should Apple investors worry?
Apple is reportedly spending $6 billion on original content for Apple TV+. Even for a company with Apple's balance sheet, that's a lot of money on a service nobody's signing up for. Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi estimates fewer than 10 million households have signed up for Apple TV+, even with the one-year free trial Apple offers new device purchasers. Based on the data from Antenna and SEMrush, that number likely hasn't budged.
Beyond the free-year promotion, Apple's marketing efforts for Apple TV+ have been relatively quiet. Perhaps Apple is deliberately taking a slow approach to signing up subscribers. Management said the free-year promotion won't have a material impact on its financial results. It'll have to slowly ramp up subscribers for that to be the case.
Investors may see a bigger marketing push for Apple TV+ later this year as more early subscribers are coming off their free year and it has a more robust library of content for new sign ups. Ultimately, Apple wants millions of paid subscribers -- free trials don't generate much revenue -- and that might not come until the end of this year. The sudden increase in demand for streaming may have simply caught Apple off guard in its plans, and it missed an opportunity.