Apple TV+ Has Fewer Than 20 Million Subscribers

Posted on September 25, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, Apple TV+ with 71 Comments

Apple told a show business union that its Apple TV+ service has fewer than 20 million subscribers, much less than the competition. It’s the first time that the firm has commented on the size of its audience, though it happened through a third party.

The revelation became public because Apple, the richest and most successful company on earth, pays the production crews for its TV shows and movies on a scale based on the popularity of Apple TV+. And with only 20 million subscribers, that pay is less than the union representing those crews was hoping for and expecting.

“Workers on certain ‘new media’ streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters,” the union writes in a press release.

As CNBC notes, Apple is putting lots of money into Apple TV+ content. For example, it spends $15 million per episode for shows like “The Morning Show,” and with the extended free trials for Apple TV+ ending this past July, it will rely on content to drive subscriber growth.

By comparison, Netflix reported in July that it had over 209 million paying subscribers. Netflix is the market leader in this segment, of course, but Warner reported in July that HBO Max had over 67.5 million subscribers, and Disney+ had over 116 million subscribers as of August. Even Hulu has almost 43 million subscribers, calling into question whether Apple TV+ is even competitive.

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Comments (71)

71 responses to “Apple TV+ Has Fewer Than 20 Million Subscribers”

  1. navarac

    I wonder if they say they only have 20 million subscribers to justify keeping pay down? Seems the sort of thing that someone might try :-)

  2. Brett Barbier

    I am surprised Apple didn't decide to buy a studio to get an instant big back catalog - MGM, Lionsgate, maybe even Sony Studios. Other than buying previous seasons of shows that they are bringing back (Fraggle Rock, and a sort of documentary style motorcycle/travel show with Ewan MacGregor), they are solely going with brand new content.

    • avidfan451

      There have been rumors of them trying to buy several franchises for exclusive access - Bond being the most prominent. I think original content is the right call, personally.

  3. davepete

    There are a hundred ways to count subscribers -- for instance, Disney+ includes in its numbers every Verizon customer, whether they use Disney+ or not. Amazon Prime Video includes everyone who buys Amazon Prime for free shipping. Some of the streaming services will survive, some will merge. It's impossible to guess what services will be around in 10 years.

  4. wright_is

    No numbers for Amazon Prime?


    Most people I know have Amazon Prime and maybe another service...


    I still have 9 months Apple TV+ from the purchase of my ipad. So far there hasn't been anything really outstanding that has grabbed my attention, with the exception of The Long Way documentaries.


    I will give Foundation a look see, but after what Hollywood has managed to do with the Dune series at every turn, I'm not holding my breath.

    • Oreo

      Yes, but most people don‘t get Amazon Prime for reasons unrelated to Amazon Prime‘s video library. Amazon‘s streaming service is a side perk of Amazon Prime. Apple‘s streaming service is supposed to fulfill the same role eventually. That‘s why subscriber numbers are less important.

    • behindmyscreen

      Be prepared for the series to be more about the assumed portions of the Foundation books rather than the stories in the books directly. They also take some timeline liberties that I was a little put off by due to the implications it has for certain events.

  5. bettyblue

    though it happened through a third party.”


    Ahh rumors make news. So is this paid or the free accounts?


    Basically every customer got it for fee at some point. I got it for free for almost 18 months only started paying the $4.99 a month in July.


    Has Apple profits gone up? Specifically their content services?

  6. markbyrn

    Off-topic but can all the adverts showing up on Premium be fixed?

  7. johnlavey

    IMO, it all comes down to content. I personally love Netflix because they have so much to offer: movies, series, and documentaries for a wide variety of interests for viewers. Apple, again IMO, has just a few high flyers: Ted Lasso and The Morning Show (maybe more). On top of that, I don't need an external device to watch Netflix on my TV. Apple pushes the viewer to buy all sorts of devices from them. NO THANKS APPLE.

    • avidfan451

      We regularly watch Apple TV+ on our Roku TV. Tons of smart TVs also have the app now. And there *is* and Apple TV app in the Google Play Store. But I get it: Apple would love for people to buy a device to consume anything they offer.

      • Hawaiianteg

        Yes it is true Apple would like for you to buy the hardware to watch their tv service, so would any other hardware maker that has a streaming service. If apple truly wanted that then they would not have made those un apple like partnerships with hardware partners to get their app on other devices, it would go against their business model. In this aspect for TV they feel like its ok as long as the content can get out, and if it brings in business to buy devices then sure awesome, but no one is forcing you to buy a apple product just to watch Apple TV, they made it very clear in their App distribution strategy that's not the case.

      • kennyb

        "...And there *is* and Apple TV app in the Google Play Store"


        Are you sure about that? The only Apple apps I see in the Google Play Store are Apple Music, Beats and "Move to iOS."

        • avidfan451

          As whistlerpro clarified in another comment, apparently the app in the Google Play Store is for Android TV only. My bad.


          It’s still available through tv.apple.com but I agree that’s not as convenient.

  8. mattbg

    Right now, I'm paying for TV+ but have gone without Prime and Netflix for at least 3 months.


    The reason is mainly that most of the TV+ shows at least seem to aim for a high bar, even if it's not my thing. That's not the case with Prime and Netflix. I don't have hours and hours to watch TV, so not having to wade through piles of stuff that should have been 4 episodes but was stretched out to 10 is worth something. They need to create "employed peoples' cuts" of these things - similar to director's cuts - for people that don't have the time.


    Admittedly, another reason I am paying is that the episodes are drip-fed rather than dropped all at once.


    One thing I am kind of surprised about is how much quality content is on TV+ where the people involved in creating it have presumably been OK with sending it to Apple and having it be limited to a max. audience of 20M. Most creators I have seen talk about the topic want people to see their content and for it to get out into the world, above many other considerations.

    • ejuly

      You are the only person I read that actually pays to use the service. I have gotten free from a new iPad mini and now from my T-mobile account. So far it is not worth more than $2 a month.

      • mattbg

        I'm the only person I know that pays for it as well :)


        I can say this, though: I've had a look at what's in the cards as far as future content, and not being a fan of space, aliens, sports, or high-brow wokedom, I do not see myself being a long-term subscriber once I've run through the things that kept me subscribing once my free trial ended.

  9. hellcatm

    20 million is about how many die-hard apple fans there are? The ones that buy apple everything. The ones that made them a trillion-dollar business. I would have hoped it would be way less than 20 million.

  10. zamroni111

    They need android audiences

  11. straker135

    Is it just me or do Jen and Reese look not very interested in being involved? They are actors who should be able to 'sell' us something they don't 'feel', and they are not selling me on Apple TV in that one frame... Even Tim Cooke looks awkward. Maybe it was the photographer not quite setting them up right? Dunno. Probably reading too much into it.

  12. behindmyscreen

    They make very good stuff which is sad that they are not getting traction on the service.

    • lvthunder

      Since when is going from 0 to 20 million paying customers in under two years not gaining traction. The competition is a bunch of media companies that have been doing this for years (Disney, HBO, Paramount, etc) and companies that have been around for a long time (Netflix and Amazon).

      • SAPaleAle

        Disney+ started 12 November 2019

        Apple TV+ started 1 November 2019


        The big difference is Disney had some known big franchises to start with (Marvel / Star Wars) which helped attract subscribers whereas Apple basically started from scratch so comparing those 2 in pure numbers at this stage is a bit apple / oranges.

  13. dxhelios

    Technical platform lock-in is always bad for subscription based services. 5% market share shows that.

  14. bmcdonald

    We have enjoyed our 1 year trial of Apple TV+ after getting new phones back in Jan 2021 - but Ted Lasso and Morning Show are probably not enough to keep us going come renewal time.


    Then again $6.00 a month (for now) is not a big deal. I do hope they get some additional content to keep things going to keep interest up. Like others have said - it is very wallpaper.


    Cheers!


    Bruce



  15. ebraiter

    Apple offers a few shows of their own and the odd movie and documentary but nothing much else.

  16. jgacr

    I'm sure Tim Apple is under reporting those numbers to pay less money to the union workers. He's a Penny counter.

  17. me

    There are way too many paid subscription services now. Don't need another one. I actually left all, and just use pluto tv. doesn't have new material, but most new material is rehashed crap these days anyways.

  18. cnc123

    That's $1.2 billion per year in revenue. That isn't Netflix, but it's not a bad business either.

  19. jhambi

    still using the free year from ipad purchase - there is some good content but not enough to warrant paying a sub

  20. mclark2112

    I get it with my Apple One subscription, wonder if that counts. Or all the trial subscriptions that come with new devices.

  21. red.radar

    I wonder if the Apple brand is the issue. How many think “oh that only works on iPhones I am not paying monthly for that. “


  22. hrlngrv

    Netflix has all the Star Trek TV series one would ever want. That sure can't hurt.


    It may also be that the flock which buys any & all Apple hardware just don't watch much TV or movies, or tend towards PBS or BBC. Or Apple may just be clueless what small screen viewers want. Consider the rising and falling of the 3 US TV networks back when there were just 3. Apple could be the NBC of the 1970s or ABC of the 1980s.

  23. ponsaelius

    I got a year's free Apple TV+ after I bought an iPhone last year. Just cancelled it.


    There are programmes with value. No doubt. However, I found that discovery of shows I wanted to watch on the LG TV was difficult. It wasn't clear what shows were on there and what they were all about.


    I am a bit of a science fiction fan, so my needs are met by Amazon Prime and Disney+.


    Maybe the underlying problem is Apple itself. It has very safe TV. Wallpaper TV. It also doesn't have a backlog of favourites. I discover stuff on Prime that I missed a few years ago but can binge on them now.


    It's fine. Not must have.

    • pecosbob04

      If you enjoy science fiction FOUNDATIONS based on the Asimov books might interest you. Also FOR ALL MANKIND though more alternative reality fits the genre and I really am enjoying it. YMMV

      • lvthunder

        For All Mankind is my favorite show on the service and probably top 3 overall that is still running.

      • Jogy

        Foundation is the ONLY reason I have accepted the free 1 year for Apple TV. Other than that, their lineup is pretty barren compared to Disney+


        I might give For All Mankind a shot as well, but in itself it is not compelling enough to keep a subscription.

      • wright_is

        The problem is, Hollywood interpretations of written books, especially sci-fi, has a very poor history.


        I'll give it a go, but I'm not holding my breath.

    • ghostrider

      Exactly - Apple's line-up is very 'safe', same as Disney+. They don't want to tarnish their whiter than white reputations so there's nothing too violent and certainly nothing overtly sexual. I believe Tim Cook stepped in and specifically ordered this. People can get pretty much anything they want from Netflix, but Apple's brand image is everything.

      • Chris_Kez

        The Morning Show is built around sexual harassment in the workplace, with some dark consequences; not exactly unicorns and rainbows.

      • bettyblue

        It’s not as safe as you say. Just watched the latest episode of “See” which ended with an explicit sex seen with the queen and her nephew.

        • avidfan451

          Or one scene in particular in Ted Lasso this season that is wholly based around a sex act. Plus they have a lot of diversity in their casting, which I appreciate.

  24. avidfan451

    Content is king, yes, but maybe there are other factors to consider in those numbers.


    Hulu’s had thirteen years to get to 43.5M subscribers. For Apple to have almost half that in just under two years ain’t half bad. And I am also a Hulu subscriber, but haven’t watched a thing on it other than “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Just haven’t found anything that interests me. I wonder how many of their subscribers are also there for Hulu Plus Live TV, and use that more than consume the original content.


    I think HBO Max’s subscribers are generally watching legacy content (Game of Thrones, Sex and the City) and the same-day-to-theaters releases. Once (if) the latter go away they’d better have some compelling original content to keep up. Hacks is good, but I haven’t seen anything else compelling there yet, either. And the GoT spinoff looks… bad.


    Interesting you didn’t mention Amazon at their 147M subscribers. Most of them are largely there because they’re Prime members, and the TV/movie content comes for free, I’d guess. But there’s also been some good shows on there like Bosch, The Boys and Good Omens.


    Netflix’s subscriber base won’t be hurting for some time just based on the sheer amount of content they have, and they also don’t have another product with which to reel people in. But it’s interesting that they’ve started limiting binging on popular shows by releasing episodes one week at a time, just like Apple does. Didn’t they always drop a whole season on the same day? Why the change? Are they worried about the longevity of binging?


    Ted Lasso has had a groundswell underneath it for a year now, and just took all the major comedy awards at the Emmys (that it had nominees in, anyway). Apple’s also had some success with The Morning Show. Mythic Quest and Physical are also decent shows, and I can’t wait for Foundation. But other content on there’s been weak. Let’s see if the next year brings more subscribers and better content, on the wings of Ted Lasso’s recent popularity or on some other steam. After all, their One subscription service has also only been around for a year, so maybe that will bring more subscribers if people see the value in it when they’re already in the Apple ecosystem…

    • bettyblue

      For us Hulu = Hand maids tale. The Hulu UI is so bad so there might be other stuff on there but I would never know.


      One thing about Apple TV is that only has original content. Hulu, Netflix and Amazon rely on lots of other content.

    • wright_is

      I tried watching Ted Lasso, but have up. It was banal dross of the worst short.


      I was insulted by the Mike Myers like stereotyping of Brits. I found it unwatchable.

      • lvthunder

        Comedy is very rarely universally liked.

      • bettyblue

        One of my favorite shows. I guess I am alone :)

        • avidfan451

          Nope, not alone. We love it — and my wife’s family are Brits. No issues with their characterizations, and love the variety of accents from all over the isle. It’s a comedy, after all; characters are almost expected to be broadly drawn. I think the original Office was perhaps more offensive to the British sensibility than Lasso, but that’s just my opinion.

  25. Hector Lugo

    I think the fact that they seem to try for "high brow" programs is stifling their growth. The shows are quality, but they don't have a hugely broad appeal. Only now, with people saying Foundation is great and the incredible chatter around Ted Lasso that people are really paying attention.

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