The Good and Bad of Apple's TV App

Well, here we are: The "all-new Apple TV app" is now available for iOS devices in more than 100 different countries. Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) attempt at building the ultimate streaming media app might not have a homegrown hero -- Apple's own subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service has yet to launch -- but the app does host content from a variety of different services. How it is structured tells us a lot about where Apple is going, along with the streaming business at large.

In some ways Apple's new approach to streaming looks a lot like Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN) platform, and it seems poised to be similarly successful. But Apple is not positioned in exactly the same way as Amazon, and the differences between the two companies could make a big difference for the Apple TV app.

Why the Apple TV app makes sense

Apple's TV app is designed to be a hub. Rather than stick with in-house content, the app offers a range of content from different providers. Some of those services come from streaming rivals, including AT&T's HBO, CBS Corporation's Showtime, and a new Viacom service called MTV Hits. The Apple TV app even plays nice with Walt Disney's Hulu -- for now, anyway.

The Apple TV app itself is free, but the services therein are, for the most part, not free. The idea here is that users of Apple's new app will sign up for the paid services through Apple's platform. Users will get to see content from all of these different providers in one unified interface, and Apple will profit by collecting its infamous "Apple tax" on the services that it has cut deals with. HBO and the rest clearly think the subscriptions they'll gain are worth the cut they're giving to Apple, while services that are staying out of Apple's app, like Netflix, clearly feel the other way.

All of this makes the premium subscriptions available through the TV app feel quite a bit like Amazon Channels. There, Amazon users can subscribe to premium services directly through Amazon and view the titles from those services within Amazon's browser app, mobile apps, or Roku Channel, as well as on the Fire TV streaming platform that ships on all of Amazon's Fire TV devices. While the big fish like Netflix have avoided becoming a part of these sorts of "hub" services, smaller and niche streaming services have come to rely on them, and hubs still look like the future of streaming.

One issue for Apple

There is one significant difference between Apple and Amazon, though, and that's the fact Amazon is a much larger player in the streaming world overall. Amazon's Fire TV devices are locked in a battle with Roku for streaming supremacy. Apple TV (the device, not the app) is holding its own but not nearly as popular. Back in 2018, Apple TV had a 15% market share compared to Fire TV's 24%, according to Fortune. Since then, Fire TV has only reported more and more impressive user data.

On the flip side, Apple has a very strong position in the mobile device market. As of 2018, the company had 38.7% market share in smartphones, and with tablets, Apple leads the field with a 26.5% market share.

Will users of Apple's mobile devices jump at the chance to subscribe to services like HBO on their iPhones and iPads, or will Apple's latest subscription-hub effort suffer in comparison to Amazon's? The presence of services like HBO suggests that they will. After all, iPhone users were already able to subscribe to HBO Now through their iOS devices (giving Apple a cut of their payments) before the TV app's launch. While we don't know exactly how many did so, HBO certainly does -- and what it knew was enough to get it on board with this new TV app. HBO clearly thinks that it will gain enough new subscribers to make the "Apple tax" worth paying.

The future of streaming

Apple will debut its own SVOD serice, called Apple TV+, in the fall. But that service will certainly not be the end-all, be-all of Apple's streaming strategy. Like Amazon, Apple clearly believes in the potential of streaming hubs and the platform tax model. For that matter, so does this writer. While Netflix may be sitting out, Apple has gotten remarkable cooperation from its future streaming rivals. Hubs aren't going anywhere, and Apple's TV app should be a powerful one.

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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Stephen Lovely owns shares of Amazon, Apple, AT&T, and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool is short shares of CBS and has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.