Apple Looks for a Sporting Chance

Emily Dickinson and the modern-day television news business were among subjects that made for provocative storytelling in the first swath of original TV shows produced for the Apple TV+ streaming service. But now it appears that the upstart video app has its eyes on another content category: sports.

Or so it would seem based on a report in June that Apple lured away from Amazon an executive who was instrumental in bringing the NFL and other sports licensors to Amazon’s video platforms. writer Peter Kafka tweeted that James DeLorenzo, who joined Amazon in 2016 and previously helped devise video offerings for Sports Illustrated, has signed on with Apple to help develop content for Apple’s video service. The report hasn’t been confirmed by Apple, and there’s no assurance that even if he is on board, DeLorenzo will focus solely on bringing sports to AppleTV+. But given DeLorenzo’s history with Amazon, and his role in negotiating rights for the NFL Thursday Night Football package on Prime Video and on Amazon’s Twitch, it’s easy to connect some dots.

Next? Let’s assume the Apple does indeed covet sports for the Apple TV+ streaming service. How might the initiative play out? The likely path is to mimic what Amazon has done with live sports by surgically selecting limited, non-exclusive rights to high-profile action. Thursday Night Football and Premier League soccer are examples for Amazon. But we can’t see Apple devoting billions of dollars on top of its existing content obligations to bid for a premiere exclusive package such as the NFL Sunday Ticket franchise. Keep in mind the intent of Apple TV+ is two-fold: To contribute to a growing Services business within Apple that generated $13.1 billion, or nearly 23% of revenue, in the most recently reported quarter; and to encourage more sales of more Apple devices, in part by accelerating upgrade patterns. Apple can accomplish both without devoting the $12 billion AT&T agreed to pay for Sunday Ticket rights over eight years, starting in 2014. Instead, having some prized sports events on a lesser scale – Apple reportedly has sniffed around for selected Pac-12 NCAA event rights – could help elevate brand luster for Apple TV+ as a place where attractive content keeps millions of loyalists in the Apple ecosystem.

A rough calculation is that around 52 million people globally have access to, and occasionally use, the Apple TV+ service thanks to complimentary subscriptions that were bundled into new device sales starting last fall. Apple TV+ also has sold an unknown number of individual subscriptions, although we believe this number of paid subscriptions is much smaller. The underlying base may be large enough to tantalize a seasoned media executive like DeLorenzo, who may see opportunity to build out an interesting position in live sports going forward.

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