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Netflix versus Apple TV+: how Apple is stealing mindshare in a too crowded streaming market

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Apple TV+ may be new to the streaming scene, but it already has stolen mindshare from the streaming giants like Netflix using a simple tool — prestige. Here's how.

When Apple TV+ launched in November 2019 a lot of criticism was directed at the fact it didn't have any franchises or lengthy series to capture attention. It garnered comparisons to other major streamers like Netflix and Disney+ whose back catalog of content dwarfed Apple's tiny offering.

The comparison wasn't unwarranted, but at the time, Netflix cost three times as much as an Apple TV+ subscription for hundreds of times more content. Apple made it clear it wasn't looking to compete directly with Netflix. Instead, it wanted to focus on quality over quantity and slowly build its catalog over the years.

Speculation surrounding how successful Apple TV+ could be centered around what it lacked. Critics were concerned that without long-running TV series like "Seinfeld," Apple would struggle to garner any attention, let alone subscribers.

Launch titles like 'Dickinson' struggled to be a stand out hit
Launch titles like 'Dickinson' struggled to be a stand out hit

Jump forward to Spring 2022 as Apple TV+ brings home the first Acadamy Award for best picture to ever go to a streaming platform — beating out Netflix, Amazon, and Disney to the honor. Popular shows like "Ted Lasso" brought Apple TV+ into the spotlight, but "CODA" cemented it as a true competitor to other streamers.

Apple TV+ isn't a problem for the greater streaming industry because of its size, catalog, subscriber base, or even available finances — it's a threat to attention. And as companies like Netflix, YouTube, and TikTok compete for every waking moment in a person's life, any new attention-grabbing platform is a threat.

Apple TV+ versus Netflix: by the numbers

Apple TV+ has a total of 120 films, documentaries, TV series, and topical shows under its belt as of April 2022. Many of the shows have two or three seasons available as well, adding up to a formidable wall of content that would take a reasonable person months to stream on its own.

However, those numbers pale in comparison to Netflix, which has over 2,200 TV series and around 4,000 movies on its platform — at least according to the What's On Netflix website. There is no question that Netflix is the streaming leader because of this approach of buying everything and seeing what sticks.

Rather than disappear into obscurity due to its seemingly tiny library with no pre-existing fan base, Apple has taken over some of the streaming mindshare. As of May 2021, a report suggested Apple had around 40 million active subscribers, which was highly attributable to extended free trials for new hardware purchases. Apple doesn't provide official numbers, but the subscriber base has likely increased thanks to the increased popularity of new content.

Data from Q2 2021 show Apple TV+ at 3% market share. Chart sourced from JustWatch.
Data from Q2 2021 show Apple TV+ at 3% market share. Chart sourced from JustWatch.

Other numbers are harder to come by, but analysts suspect Apple spent $500 million in marketing in 2021 as compared to Netflix spending $1 billion. Apple also reportedly spends roughly $6 billion on content annually, which is about one-third of Netflix's reported spend for 2021 — $17 billion.

Clearly, Apple TV+ is a small streaming service with a slow-growing user base, but that doesn't mean Netflix should count them out. The one place Apple can compete with Netflix on equal footing is awards, and it has a lot of them.

Apple TV+ versus Netflix: accolades

Apple brazenly points out the number of awards it has any chance it gets. Any Apple TV+ news is usually accompanied by an ever-increasing number of awards and nominations. As of April 2022, Apple says it has 244 wins and 961 award nominations.

Netflix isn't as forthcoming with this data, and thanks to the sheer number of groups with awards programs, it isn't easy to ascertain. So, we've whittled this examination down to three of the biggest United States award shows — Acadamy Awards, Emmys, and Golden Globes.

Awards won since January 2021

Award ShowApple TV+Netflix
Acadamy Awards68
Golden Globes215
Primetime Emmys410
Creative Emmys734

The disparity between the two streaming services is narrowed when viewed through the awards lens. While Netflix is still the clear leader in terms of total awards won throughout 2021 and early 2022, Apple TV+ is holding its own.

Netflix has around 1,500 original movies versus Apple's 38, yet Apple has won only two fewer Oscars and was the first to take home best picture. This means Apple's quality approach seems to be working in its favor.

The vast majority of Netflix's wins for the Emmys and Golden Globes center around two shows: "The Crown" and "Queen's Gambit." Likewise, Apple TV+ saw most of its wins centered around "Ted Lasso."

As long as both platforms can find hit shows that appeal to wide audiences, they will continue to dominate awards programs. However, Apple's more targeted approach may mean more accreditation for less money over time.

Data shows of Apple's top ten shows, 'Ted Lasso' is a standout in popularity. Data from 30 Jun - 27 Sep 2021. Source: Parrot Analytics
Data shows of Apple's top ten shows, 'Ted Lasso' is a standout in popularity. Data from 30 Jun - 27 Sep 2021. Source: Parrot Analytics

Awards aren't everything for a streaming service, but they feed into the mindshare of potential customers. It is easier to sell Apple TV+ if it's home to the Emmy award-winning Outstanding Comedy Series and Oscar-winning Best Picture.

Netflix continues to be a powerful platform in streaming, but if it continues to increase prices with no perceivable benefit, people may choose to leave. Part of that perception is maintaining a growing list of desirable content, not just content for its sake.

Apple TV+ versus Netflix: barrier to entry

Apple is in no danger of toppling Netflix or driving customers away from the platform anytime soon. However, it gains a mass of new content with each passing year while maintaining that $4.99 price point, and Apple has plenty of runway to maintain that price.

There is a narrative that suggests most homes don't have space for another streaming service. The perception is that families would, at most, subscribe to three streamers: Netflix, Disney+, and a premium third option like HBO Max.

Adding yet another service to the pile wouldn't be appealing to most consumers, but Apple makes it relatively easy with a low barrier to entry. By tying accounts to the existing Apple ID system, all existing Apple customers need to do is pay, and even that is scarily simple.

For most Apple TV+ subscribers, their first experience will be getting a free trial to the service just for having an Apple ID. And yes, Apple reminds you of this free trial whenever it gets the chance.

However, Apple brought down yet another barrier to entry by introducing bundles. On its own, Apple would have trouble convincing customers to pay for Apple TV+ thanks to the extremely crowded streaming market. Still, by bundling it with other services, people will have Apple TV+ available even if they didn't seek it out directly.

In April 2022, the cost of a 4K Netflix streaming subscription is $20 per month after a recent price hike. That's the same price as the Apple One Family plan which has Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and 200GB of iCloud Storage for six family members.

People won't be ditching Netflix for an Apple One bundle, but they may choose to have Netflix and the Apple One bundle for their family, which just happens to include Apple TV+. It is difficult to argue against the bundle pricing and features for anyone with more than one person in an Apple Family.

Even if Apple isn't directly affecting Netflix subscriptions, if people have access to Apple TV+ through whatever means, it translates to less time on Netflix. And that is the exact problem Netflix is trying to combat against.

Netflix is also struggling with how it addresses users about strategy changes, pricing, and new content. The company has taken an aggressive stance against sharing accounts with friends and family, which may sour the appeal of the service for many. So while other streamers are trying to bring barriers down for subscribers, Netflix is putting them up and acting as an aggressor toward its own customers.

Apple TV+ versus Netflix: looking ahead

Apple TV+ adds new shows and movies every month
Apple TV+ adds new shows and movies every month

The content streaming industry is at a crossroads as customers are inundated with choices. Apple has positioned itself as the affordable yet premium place to get the best programming on the planet, and that strategy seems to be paying off.

Netflix is changing its strategy since it has theoretically peaked in its growth using its existing methods. Now, the service is expected to move to advertising, low-cost tiers, and other options to broaden its potential market.

Looking at the media marketplace today, customers are tired of price hikes and promises of future content when there's so much available elsewhere. The simplicity and broad amount of content on Netflix will keep most people subscribed, but the company is in danger of alienating users.

Apple TV+, with its high awards-to-content ratio with only three years on the market, makes it a formidable upstart with plenty of room to grow. While it won't topple the streaming giants, it could easily become a foundational part of home entertainment thanks to increasing customer mindshare and ease of access.