Apple and Oprah are ready for battle

2:41 pm on 26 March 2019

By Chris Schulz*

Opinion - "There has never been a moment quite like this one," declared Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah Winfrey speaks at the Steve Jobs Theatre during the announcement of Apple's new streaming service.

Oprah Winfrey at the Steve Jobs Theatre during the announcement of Apple's new streaming service. Photo: AP

As eyes welled up and chins rested on fists, the cultural icon discussed "positive change" and "common goals," mentioned "illuminating consciousness," and suggested we all need to "leave the world lighter, kinder and better than how we found it".

Oprah also found time for a jab at Donald Trump: "I want to reach that sweet spot where insight and perspective, truth and tolerance actually intersect."

They're the kind of buzzwords that a presidential hopeful might throw around.

Sadly, this wasn't Oprah's much-desired 2020 campaign launch.

There had already been many surprises at the Steve Jobs Theatre in Cupertino, California, as phone giant Apple announced a range of new subscription services for TV, video games and news, and then spent a solid half-hour flexing their biggest gets.

That included the bizarre sight of Steven Spielberg sharing a stage with Sesame Street's Big Bird.

But Apple saved the best for last by showing off Oprah. She's delivering two hard-hitting documentaries - one on toxic workplaces, the other on mental health issues - and an all-new regular book club series for new streaming service Apple TV+.

That's big. That's huge. But flexing is exactly what Apple's 90-minute presentation, which included appearances from JJ Abrams, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Jason Momoa and Steve Carell, was all about.

Netflix is winning the TV streaming war. Apple isn't happy about that, so, just like it did when it took on music streaming giant Spotify, it's doing something about it.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and Oprah Winfrey during an event at the Steve Jobs Theatre to unveil its new streaming platform. March 25, 2019, in Cupertino, Calif.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and Oprah Winfrey on stage at the announcement Photo: AP

With phones in the pockets of about 1 billion people, Apple remains one of the world's biggest brands. The smart money - long term - would have to be on Apple here too.

Crucially, Apple seems to realise what Netflix already knows: the key to a successful streaming service isn't tentpole titles.

These days, finding the next Game of Thrones, as Amazon Prime Video is trying to do with its big budget Lord of the Rings reboot, doesn't matter.

It's about quantity. The more you have, the better your chances of success. Only some of it needs to be any good.

Today, Apple announced a lot of TV. Like, almost all of it. Their new Apple TV app is an all-you-can-eat buffet combining streaming services, cable giants and new release movies, including HBO, APV, Showtime and Starz, delivered for one subscription fee, under one roof.

Shows that could never be neighbours before, like American Gods (APV) and The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu), can now sit side-by-side on one platform.

How that works in New Zealand, where HBO shows screen exclusively on Sky's SoHo channels and its Neon streaming service, remains to be seen. It's likely they'll be asking that exact question today.

But it's the exclusive new content on Apple TV+ that really shows where the rumoured $US1 billion budget was spent. Spielberg isn't cheap. Abrams is going to cost you. Get out your chequebook for Ron Howard.

Aniston, who fronted one of TV's most beloved characters, can charge the big bucks. She almost definitely is.

From left, Steve Carell, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston at the Apple announcement of its new streaming service.

From left, Steve Carell, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston at the Apple announcement of its new streaming service. Photo: Associated Press

Alongside Witherspoon and Carell, she's fronting The Morning Show, about a stressful US morning news show. Momoa is the big get for See, a Game of Thrones-style fantasy in which the major players are blind. Spielberg is delivering Fantastic Stories, a sci-fi anthology series. Nanjiani is telling immigrants' stories in Little America.

Other big names involved include Spike Lee, Ronald D Moore, Octavia Spencer, M Night Shyamalan and Sofia Coppola. Flex, flex, flex.

All that, and Oprah. After her presidential presentation, she got a standing ovation and turned to hug Apple boss Tim Cook, who was left in awe.

"I'm not going to forget this moment in a hurry," he said.

It wouldn't have been a surprise to see his middle finger up behind her back. Because Apple just gave Netflix a good-old one-fingered salute.

What does it mean? Buckle up, buddy: it means war.

* Chris Schulz is a freelance journalist writing predominantly about the entertainment industry.

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