Why Apple hiring Jeremy Clarkson might actually have been a good idea

One thing we don’t expect Apple to announce at next week’s iPhone and Apple TV event is any kind of big launch for content. Yet, according to a story on Variety, not only is Apple looking to launch more content for Apple TV users – it may even be getting into creating its own exclusive programmes.

Why Apple hiring Jeremy Clarkson might actually have been a good idea

And, the report claims, Apple even went as far as to make “an unprecedented bid” to hire Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond to recreate the formula for Top Gear on Apple TV.

In the end, Amazon ended up winning that battle – but the fact that Apple was serious enough about original programming to get involved in what was probably the hottest battle for talent this year demonstrates its seriousness about creating its own TV programmes.

Original programming is widely seen by many in the streaming TV business as the way to differentiate services from the sea of “me too” content that’s out there. Programmes which originated on TV can be had by pretty-much any service will to license the content. But relying on a back catalogue is, basically, table stakes: you need to have something more if you aim to grab the emerging market of “cord cutters” who are forsaking cable subscriptions in favour of streamed services.

That’s why Netflix is spending a lot of money on original programming like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. And it’s why Amazon was willing to pay Clarkson, Hammond and May a very large amount of cash in order to tempt them online.

For Apple, original programming makes a lot of sense. First, of course, if it wants to it has the money to outbid anyone: $160 million in the bank would bankroll a lot of content. That it decided not to outbid Amazon shows that it ran the numbers and decided that the 350 million global audience for Top Gear wasn’t valuable enough to spend all that money. 

But also, it fits in with the approach the company had with Apple Music. Although it hasn’t launched its own record company, it did hire Zane Lowe to set up Beats1, to give Apple Music something more than just the same catalogue everyone else has. Hiring “talent” is something Apple has been doing a lot of lately, and it clearly sees it as a way of bootstrapping its entertainment services.

However, if Apple is going to do this properly, it needs to think big – bigger, in fact, than a single blockbuster hit. Netflix plans to launch 20 series this year. Amazon will probably do something similar. Could Apple do the same? If it wants to seriously compete, it will need to.

Image by The Stig

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