We’ve suspected it for a while, but new data seems to confirm it – hardly anyone is actually paying for Apple TV+. More worryingly for Apple, a chunk of those users never intend to do so when their free trial ends.
The Apple TV+ Freeloader Dilemma
Analysis released by MoffettNathan, reported on by Variety, last week found that 62 percent of Apple TV+ users in Q4 2020 were using Apple TV+ as part of a free trial. It gets worse – 29 percent of those people said they did not intend to subscribe and pay-up after this ended. Indeed, just 30 percent saying they planned to renew for $4.99 per month. Everyone else was unsure. This comes on top of recent data from JustWatch that revealed that Apple TV+ had just three percent market share in the U.S. in that same quarter. Perhaps then, it should come as no surprise that the Apple TV+ free trial period has now been extended through July 2021. When that extension was first announced, I wrote that I didn’t get what the strategy was. And, truthfully, I still don’t. But a policy of neverending free ‘trials’ probably doesn’t work.
Apple TV+ Free Forever?
One possible solution posited when discussing this with my colleagues, was that you will never be asked to pay directly for Apple TV+, but if you want it for more than a year you’ll need to buy an Apple One bundle. I can definitely see this happening, although it rather relies on people thinking the iCloud offer is worth it, especially if they are not interested in the games on Apple Arcade. I’ve always calculated that one service you don’t want still means a bundle worthwhile. Two? That’s less clear psychologically, if not financially.
Perhaps Apple could just come out and say they are never going to ask anyone to pay? Maybe, but TV and film is expensive to produce, license etc. I’m not sure even Apple can simply give it away for free permanently with new devices. “We remain concerned about future subscriber churn if there is a slow device cycle and users choose not to renew on their own,” the MoffettNathan analysts said in their report. I also don’t see how access to the service is going to be enough to entice non-Apple users into ‘switching sides’ and buying an iPhone or another device for hundreds or thousands of dollars. If they wanted it that much they could spend US$4.99 and watch it over Chrome or Firefox on a non-Apple device and probably still be in profit.
Time to Rip Off The Band-Aid
Of course, Apple TV+ could just get canned, but I think everyone is in too deep for that. This is not Quibi. Personally, I think the answer is to rip off the Band-Aid – no more free trial extensions. By that point, there should be enough content on there for people to decide whether it is worth it or not. It also means commissioning decisions will be made on the basis that the content is good enough that people want to pay for it, not just good enough. I understand that rival streamers have a far greater back catalog, but good content, a competitive standalone price point, and inclusion in bundles should be enough to make paying for Apple TV+ worthwhile for a significant number of users.