Apple Says No to Sex and Violence for Its Streaming Service

Posted on September 23, 2018 by Mehedi Hassan in Apple with 56 Comments

Apple’s streaming service has been in the works for years. The software giant invested more than a billion dollars into the project to bring its own Netflix competitor into fruition. The company is even investing millions to develop its own original shows that’d compete with Netflix Originals and Amazon Prime Originals.

So far, though, things have been a little rocky for Cupertino. WSJ is reporting that the company is enforcing a family-friendly approach for all its original content, possibly delaying the launch of its streaming service even further. WSJ notes that Tim Cook said the company’s Vital Signs show — based on Dr. Dre’s life — was “too violent” after watching it a year ago. “Apple can’t show this,” the report mentions.

That’s not all. Bryan Fuller, the showrunner for Apple’s reboot of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, left the firm earlier in the year after a major conflict over Apple’s focus on family-friendly content. The company is even facing problems with its other show — based on a morning news show starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon — which costs the company more than $12 million an episode. After initially replacing the original showrunner for the show, the company is now facing scheduling issues with Witherspoon, resulting in further delays.

Apple has invested a ton of money into its streaming service, and the family-friendly approach could end up hurting the company in the longer run. Some within the company are even calling its streaming service efforts as the “expensive NBC.” Apple made it clear to its showrunners and producers it doesn’t want gratuitous sex, profanity or violence, and it even wants to stay away from politics and religious subjects.

And that’s exactly the opposite approach its competitors like Netflix are taking.

With shows like Narcos, House of Cards, 13 Reasons Why, Sacred Games, Sense8, and others, Netflix hasn’t shied away from content that Apple would otherwise consider being too profane, or violent. Graphic content obviously isn’t the key to success, though Apple could find itself struggling to produce entertaining content if it’s not ready to banish the conservative approach for its shows.

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Comments (56)

56 responses to “Apple Says No to Sex and Violence for Its Streaming Service”

  1. MikeGalos

    Of course! Apple is doing a 1950s TV show revival network.

    Think of the bandwidth they'll save by streaming it in low-res black and white.

  2. BeckoningEagle

    That is pretty broad, will their shows be only animal documentaries, my little pony and bob the builder? They may as well just purchase Discovery Kids from Discovery Channel. My gripe with Netflix Original is that everything is TV-MA, but I think it is laziness to not put it through a ratings board. Some of those TV-MA shows could easily be TV-14.

    Even then, TV-14 shows and even some TV-7 or TV-Y are loaded with violence and religious content (albeit not necessarily christian, but witch-craft, magic and that sort of thing which have religious elements to it). I am not condemning or censoring anything, by the way, just saying that their definitions are to broad.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to BeckoningEagle:

      In fairness, there are many good to outstanding movies which Apple could still stream, assuming only shock visuals and profanity are out, but adult concepts are just peachy: Seven Days in May, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Apollo 13, The Martian, Arrival. Presumably all war movies would be out, as well as all horror movies and most police movies. How about movies like Argo or 12 Angry Men or Failsafe?

      Heck, I'm a baby boomer. I grew up watching reruns of Combat.

  3. skane2600

    So I guess that would eliminate any dramatic version of Shakespeare or many other classics. Or maybe they'd have to make extreme changes: "It was the best of times. Yep it certainly was".

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to skane2600:

      With respect to A Tale of Two Cities, the Ronald Coleman version had no graphic violence and was still an outstanding movie (if one appreciates melodrama). OTOH, there's no graphic violence in Hitchcock's Lifeboat, but I can't see letting little kids watch it.

      • skane2600

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        It depends on whether they want to ban sex and violence completely or only graphic depictions. ATOTC is a violent story whether blood is shown or not.

        One of the funniest child-friendly adaptations of Shakespeare I read was "Much Ado About Nothing" where Hero was shunned because they mistakenly thought she was observed "talking to a man".

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to skane2600:

          Beauty and the Beast is also a violent story, but would it be likely to be banned?

          Perhaps a better question: would Apple ban Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner? Or does cartoon violence not count?

          • skane2600

            In reply to hrlngrv:

            One could argue that superhero movies have cartoon violence too. We typically don't treat sex and violence equally. I doubt that people concerned with family-friendly content would accept cartoon sex as easily as cartoon violence.

  4. hrlngrv

    I have a simplistic test for too violent: is Tora Tora Tora banned? Replace that with any Best Picture nominee with more than 10 minutes aggregate of violent scenes to suit individual subjective preferences. For that matter, documentaries about any wars from WWI forward.

    If Apple wants a lock on the mild end of PG all the way through G rated content, it's going to discover that's not where the money is. At the moment I'm watching Apollo 13 for the umpteenth time. Seems that and other action movies like Twister may be what Apple is hoping for, and that may get them 1/4 of the streaming market if no one else were going for that kind of content.

    Graphic content may not be the only key to success, but would Deliverance or Taxi Driver have become memorable movies without some graphic content? Seems like Apple wants to give up on adults without small children.

    • maethorechannen

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      Seems like Apple wants to give up on adults without small children.

      Whose more likely to buy an iBabysitter (aka an iPad) - an adult with or without small children?

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to maethorechannen:

        Is there a Disney app for Android? PBS kids shows too?

        I get what you're saying, but Samsung Galaxy Tabs are cheaper than iPads.

        Still not that much money avoiding nastier PG and R rated content. A service with parental controls enabled by default but allowing that to be disabled to see edgier content would have made more long-term economic sense.

  5. waethorn

    I think that they're playing it safe so they don't lose subscribers over anything that can be seen as objectionable from any political or lifestyle viewpoint. I doubt that they could pull it off though. I can't figure a company as liberal as Apple can sterylize their bias enough to not let something slip through.

  6. waethorn

    I guess Roots is out of the picture then....

    I'm sure their masters as Disney have already banned Schindler's List too.

  7. locust infested orchard inc

    I have a healthy propensity for disliking Apple, with good reason, all of which stem from their business philosophy and their execution of it. That said, let me be the first to vocalise my sincere joy and approval of Apple's stance regarding a zero tolerance approach to disallowing material of a sexual and violent nature on their streaming service.

    Apple should be congratulated on taking a firm stance on what many may see as Apple dictating their views of a bygone age. Rather, I see Apple as taking the moral high ground for the best interests of society as a whole, given the real World we live in has become increasingly violent and sexually promiscuous, particularly in the current century.

    I frankly cannot grasp the concept of Hollywood or game studios filming or coding content of a violent nature, when we have always lived in times where gross atrocities are being committed in some far flung part of the World. A discussion for another time and place perhaps.

    If this were Google's streaming service, there would be no hesitation in the slightest in showing beheadings, têrrørīst propaganda videos, or trailers of pornographic videos constructed in a sped up montage manner. Wait a moment, this sounds ominous – we're not castigating YouTube by any chance ?

    • Curtmcgirt

      In reply to locust infested orchard inc:
      To add to your satire: Absolutely. Today's consumers love programming from a bygone age. Apple should also make all of their shows black and white, and VHS quality. As long as there's an Apple watermark in the corner, I'll pay any price and cancel any competing services.

  8. dontbe evil

    is long queue for latest overpriced iPhone xyz days in advance considered sex and violence?

  9. Yaggs

    It would likely be better to just give users some decent parental controls and then let them decide their families watch... you know... like most of these other providers... But hey... Apple knows what phone features are best to allow people to have each year, why shouldn't they choose what TV programs people should watch. I'll pass... not sure why a hardware maker like Apple is even getting into this space.

    • mattbg

      In reply to Yaggs:

      They're likely getting into this space for the same reason they got into Apple Music:

      1. They are too dependent on hardware revenue (iPhone) that is not necessarily recurring. Services provide recurring revenue.
      2. They have sold music and movies piecemeal for years and are obligated to "keep the lights on" and make that content available in the cloud in perpetuity years after the sale was recorded. They have built the infrastructure to supply this. But the world is moving from digital media purchases to streaming subscriptions. If digital media purchases fall off significantly, this model may be unsustainable in the longer term if buyers move from iTunes music / video sales to Spotify / Netflix streaming.
  10. BeeCee1972

    I rarely comment and I am sure my views will elicit a fair amount of criticism, but I am glad Apple is taking this stand. I am not prude by any means but the amount of gratuitous content, especially sexual, generally serves no purpose to the overall story line. Allow to me give two recent examples:

    Amazon's Jack Ryan was a great series that I would not have minded watching with my kiddos except for the three scenes that included sex. From a overall perspective, those scenes had no story purpose whatsoever, especially the Drone Operator episode.

    And just to prove it is not just all about sex, Hostiles, included plenty of story driven violence which was appropriate but, for no story reason whatsoever, included none historical foul language. While the F-word was used in that period, it was not used a swear word but rather as a crude word for intercourse.

    The overarching point is the sex, violence and language should serve a story purpose and be authentic and not just used for titillation. Using those standards, Schindler's List and Tora Tora, would pass.

  11. Anguis

    I'm interested in seeing what they come up with. I've already considered dropping Netflix because of the coarse content. I actually look forward to shows I can watch with my kids that aren't boring. Hopefully they can produce something good. An engaging hit the whole family can watch - that would actually be great!

  12. lvthunder

    I hope they succeed in this approach. It's so sad to me to see all the E's in the Top 100 lists on Apple Music. Can't a song be good and not have bad language in it anymore. When I look at the top songs list #16 is the first song without the E and it's the only one in the top 30.

  13. Awhispersecho

    I don't believe for a second they will stay out of political or social commentary. It would be nice if someone would but there is no way they will. I would assume they must have some type of research or statistics they show that non-violent, family friendly content is the way to go based on their users.

    It does make sense though. Almost every single kid I see has an iPhone and or iPad. Obviously this is because their parents use them and that means there are a lot of families out there that are all Apple. Apple wouldn't do this if it didn't make sense to them.

  14. Daekar

    Good family friendly programming would put Apple at the top of the short list for my household. Half the reason why we don't have a TV subscription or pay for Netflix is because of how downright unpleasant, angsty, and violent things have gotten. It is shocking to go to my in-laws house and see the absolute trash that they subject themselves to... and they know it's bad! They just do it anyway.

    Sometimes there are gems like Galavant (it was good and clever, and therefore was canceled after two seasons), but most isn't worth the time. If Apple can pull off a good service with clean, interesting content, they might get my money. And I usually don't give them the time of day.

    Of course, they'd probably force me to buy an Apple TV or something...

  15. madthinus

    Maybe they should just buy Hallmark? To me this is Apple hubris at work in a marked that they don't understand.

  16. m_p_w_84

    Apple never have liked reality.

  17. mattbg

    This doesn't seem too bad to me. They likely see how the market is emerging - multiple streaming services with their own libraries and lots of overlap - and perhaps see that many people will subscribe to Netflix anyway, get Prime with their Prime subscription, and therefore need a way to differentiate their own service if someone is going to pay for it for the content's sake alone...

    Offering something you can stick the kids in front of without worrying (and have preferential treatment with respect to controls and prominence on the iPad) might be a differentiator. Their main competition may therefore be whatever Disney comes up with for a streaming service... what happened to those rumours of Apple buying Disney?

    There's some ambiguity in this story, though - Apple Originals may be family-friendly, but what about the rest of the content? Surely they wouldn't only be offering purely original content and nothing else.

  18. jules_wombat

    So much for "Game of Thrones" then

  19. jbinaz

    Given all the problems I've heard about this service, I have to think it's DOA. Unless they can come up with a breakout hit (like House of Cards was for Netflix), they'll plod along until they throw in the towel.

    With Disney starting a their own streaming service that will have most of the Marvel properties, Star Wars, and a huge back catalog of family-friendly stuff, I don't see how Apple competes. Add in general subscription fatigue and it gets even worse.

    Of course, I'm no expert, and could be wrong, but I don't see a clear path forward.

    • red.radar

      In reply to jbinaz:

      this would be a legitmate concern if Apple is entering the family friendly content market. Disney owns this space and considering how closely Disney and Apply have collaborated in the past, I worry that this could destroy a good relationship like the one Apple / Google had when android was launched.

    • shameermulji

      In reply to jbinaz:

      Not necessarily. They have a lot of shows in development.

    • lvthunder

      In reply to jbinaz:

      Just wait until Apple is ready to launch this service then decide. Don't make any judgments about the service based on rumors and speculation.

  20. Jeff Jones

    It would be nice if Apple would put out a TV/Movie app on all the big platforms like Roku, Google, Amazon. Otherwise I won't be watching any of the Apple content.

    However, I'm glad they are trying for family friendly. About 70% of the Netflix originals seem to be a regular PG-13 (TV-14) story with pointless profanity and other junk added in just to change it to an R (TV-MA). It makes the Netflix shows seem like they were made by 2nd tier writers and directors, or cheaper than they could be otherwise.

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to DataMeister:

      Then it seems like you can save some money and not subscribe to Netflix. See? That was easy. Problem solved.

      Of course, other people aren't you and just as they shouldn't tell you that you must watch shows you don't like, you shouldn't be trying to tell them what shows they should and shouldn't like.

      • curtisspendlove

        In reply to MikeGalos:

        Of course, other people aren't you and just as they shouldn't tell you that you must watch shows you don't like, you shouldn't be trying to tell them what shows they should and shouldn't like.

        I assume you realize that this statement works both ways, right...?

        Apple has plenty of consumers who appreciate their curation process.

        And if you care to look up viewing statistics I think you’ll find there’s a much larger overall audience that appreciates sub-R ratings than that which appreciates post-R ratings.

        Edit: misread the tone of the original comment. I think what I quoted was stated in the old “reverend...did you know there are two KNOBS on the radio” attitude. I agree with this. We are different people with different likes. Choice is always a good thing.

        • MikeGalos

          In reply to curtisspendlove:

          Precisely. It goes both ways.

          I'm saying you can choose to not watch something you don't like or watch what you like.

          YOU are saying that others should watch what you like or not watch ANYTHING.

          That's NOT going both ways. That's going YOUR way or else.

          As you said, "Choice is always a good thing" so stop praising reduction of choices.

          • curtisspendlove

            In reply to MikeGalos:

            YOU are saying that others should watch what you like or not watch ANYTHING.

            I think you should re-read what I’ve stated.

            I’ve never said you can’t watch what you want to watch.

            There are *plenty* of places to find content.

            And, again, I’ll point out that you can find Deadpool and Deadpool 2 on iTunes.

            I’m not sure Apple has ever, explicitly, said they won’t allow those things at all on the content service. I’m guessing it won’t consist solely of Apple created content.

            Instead, they said, “you want our money, we get some creative input”.

            That is *perfectly* acceptable. You don’t have to like it, but it isn’t your money.

            If you don’t like Apple’s service, feel free to subscribe to whatever service gives you the content you want.

            To paraphrase a great comedian of our time: Never forget, there are two knobs on the radio. One turns it off, and the other changes the channel.

            So you're saying that censorship = quality?

            :: sigh ::

            Well, first I don’t consider this “censorship”. But I predict that is going to be a very specific argument in which neither of us are going to agree with the other.

            So, for the sake of *not* arguing about minutia, let’s pretend I do agree this qualifies as “censorship” and Apple is trying to dictate to me, as an adult, what I should watch or not.

            Yes. I have a long list of stuff that I think rarely, if ever, adds to the “quality” of a creative work.

            The “realism” argument aside (it is largely irrelevant in any derivation of fiction, which by definition, is *not* a work of reality), in my opinion, a work is a much higher quality when it contains certain things and does not contain other things.

            Again, this is a subjective opinion. You and I might have completely different lists of what makes a work a “quality” work.

            I'd point out that Apple couldn't show, by their rules, even the first film to EVER get the Best Picture Academy Award because Wings, in 1928, had nudity.

            Again, I haven’t heard anything concretely saying Apple wouldn’t allow this content on their streaming service.

            And I assume you are referring to the 1927 film Wings (not-rated) which has a 95% approval rating on rotten tomatoes. Yup I’m familiar with it. Excellent film. I haven’t seen it for a couple decades.

            Good thing I can rectify that by renting it from iTunes for $3.99.

            Oh wait, that’s silly since Apple is censoring everything. But yet, there it is.

            So, thanks for pointing that out, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it.

            But I’ll reiterate that many, many people differentiate between the acts of paying for the creation of something and offering or consuming something.

            It seems that the “powers that be” at Apple are some of those that do. But I feel that revelation should surprise exactly no one.


            This is why why choice is so wonderful. And why I think it is admirable that Apple considers this for the content they bankroll.

    • My Hell baby speaking

      In reply to DataMeister:

      I find notihng preferable in pointless kids friendly (stop calling it family friendly when its only friendly to the kids while mom and dad cringe of the floundering idiocy of today's kid show characters and way of narration?
      If I had to choose I would go for relevent mature content and the kids would stay in their room and read a book.
      Tip to Apple: Take some inspriration from Google's developer series on yt where content adressed at code savvy people is presented in the style of Die Sendung mit der Maus.

      • curtisspendlove

        In reply to My Hell baby speaking:

        If I had to choose I would go for relevent mature content and the kids would stay in their room and read a book.

        Uh huh. Except adding a boob shot and an f-bomb doesn’t make a bad story a good one.

        Nor does removing those those things make a good story a bad one.

        :: shrug ::

        But the way I read the original stories wasn’t that they are saying nothing is acceptable, just certain types or combinations.

        There’s a big difference between the dialog lines:

        ”oh f—-“ (as a bad guy draws a gun)

        ”let's f—-“ (as a guy draws his belt from his pants)

        We don’t know a lot of specifics so I’m not too concerned.

        After all, you can open iTunes and buy both Deadpool movies for $30. And I think most people would agree that is about the worst you can get before you top out an R for an NC-17.

        • MikeGalos

          In reply to curtisspendlove:

          So you're saying that censorship = quality?

          I'd point out that Apple couldn't show, by their rules, even the first film to EVER get the Best Picture Academy Award because Wings, in 1928, had nudity.

          And they couldn't show Midnight Cowboy (Best Picture 1969) because it had an X rating.

          But, they could show lots and lots of "family friendly" garbage.

        • My Hell baby speaking

          In reply to curtisspendlove:

          I have to excuse, since English is not my mother tongue. With mature content I literally mean content for grown ups, which does not explicitly end with sexual content. In English of course mature content is derived from the rating.

          And I agree with you saying that atom bombs and female breasts do not turn a bad story into a good one. I tried to refer to works from L.v.Trier and A.Tarkowsky or movies like Soldier Blue, La vita e bella, or La grande bouffe. There is an immense treasure of films where one has to rely on DVD/Blue Disk, because they are not appearing in the range of streaming services afaik.

          I find it legit to curse Apple for explicitly turning towards clean kids friendly stuff missing out beacons of cinematography.

  21. red.radar

    I hope it works out for apple. I love the idea of more content that is family friendly. Sign me up. I have young kids in the house and I like them to mature a little more and develop reasoning skills before being assuaulted with the realities of this world.

    Besides good programing doesn't mean it has to have an edge or objectionable element. I think there is a void in this regard and if they can successfully reach it then it will work out profitably for them.

    In an age full of divisive politics and media that is designed to trigger outrage. This is a welcome alternative. I anxiously await the reveal of the product. Could be the next big thing after the iphone

  22. curtisspendlove

    I don’t think this is a huge problem. I’m actually glad they are enforcing stricter controls. There are plenty of avenues to get edgier content.

    I’m also guessing this only applies to stuff stamped with an “Apple Studios” (or whatever they call it) logo. And I doubt the service will be entirely Apple content.

    But if you want a chunk of that big fat iPhone money to produce your show, you get to play by their rules.

    :: shrug ::

  23. kjb434

    The big difference between Netflix/Amazon and Apple is that Netflix and Amazon are not influencing the show creators. This also the reason why HBO and Showtime have seen a renaissance. They use their subscriber setup to avoid censors and give the show creators free range.

    If Apple wants to exert their control over the creators, you can kiss this venture into content creation good-bye.

  24. MacLiam

    Apple TV has provided the Mothership with tons of user preference data. If Tim and company see an underserved market segment that doesn't live as far out on the end of the content bell curve as some Showtime/HBO/Netflix offerings, then that market segment probably exists. If it turns out that violence-free and sex-free offerings aren't as profitable as the company would hope, there is always the Tier 1/Tier 2 option.

    Competition is good. Apple should commit to their vision; they have enough cash to lose a few billion if it turns out that they have misread the tea leaves or weren't able to see far enough around the corner to spot oncoming challenges.

  25. skborders

    While I would love to see more family friendly TV, I don’t believe that is what is popular with the masses. This being the case, I don’t see it even moving the needle in popularity.

  26. Greg Green

    Sorry for the late arrival, but nonetheless, BoxOfficeMojo lists the top three R rated movies as collecting about $1.1 billion and overall placing 40, 44 and 48. They list the top three G rated movies as collecting about $1.2 billion and placing overall 22, 24, and 36.

    But the news is even better with profits. From CNN Jun 7, 2005: The average G-rated film made between 1989 and 2003 produced more than 11 times greater profit than its R-rated counterpart, $79 million vs. $7 million, even though the movie industry produced nearly 12 times more R-rated films than G-rated films...

    More recently from Jan 11, 2012 ( New figures released by The Numbers, a Hollywood box office website, show that despite G-rated movies earning 3 to 5 times more that R-rated movies, Hollywood continues to pump out more and more R-rated fare...

    So Apple is simply finding the more profitable path, again.