As Apple looks to draw more viewers to its TV offerings — both original programming on Apple TV+ and third-party app gateway Apple TV — it has been having discussions with a wide range of potential partners.
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The companies involved declined comment when contacted by Deadline, with the Journal story citing only unidentified sources.
A deal with MGM, whether a licensing arrangement or a broader form of an acquisition of the privately held firm, would give Apple a dimension it doesn’t currently have: a library. The collection includes films like the James Bond franchise and a wide assortment of well-known TV properties and assets including premium network Epix.
The Pac-12 — the conference that includes UCLA and USC — has had its own cable network and has also licensed more than 100 marquee football and basketball games to ESPN and Fox. Those deals won’t expire until 2024, meaning any Apple involvement until then wouldn’t include the top draws. It’s also worth noting that the conversations with the tech giant occurred as the conference spent the past year in an active search for an equity partner. While once a mainstay of college sports, the West Coast-based conference has lost ground to the SEC and Big 10 in recent years, especially in football’s lucrative, four-team playoff system.
Apple TV+ launched November 1 with a collection of originals like The Morning Show and Dickinson, carrying a reported price tag north of $1 billion. The $5-a-month streaming service hit the market a few months after the revamped Apple TV system, which has broken ground with distribution deals with connected-TV companies like Samsung, a first for Apple. Streaming apps for Showtime, CBS and a host of others are available via Apple TV, with Apple collecting a hefty service fee.
Eddy Cue, Apple’s head of services, has taken an active role in strategic discussions, but a colleague with a traditional media background also has a seat at the table: Peter Stern. Charged with growing Apple’s businesses across video, news, books, iCloud and ad services, Stern is a former McKinsey and Time Warner exec who had a long stint at Time Warner Cable. Because of his time in the traditional MVPD trenches, Stern is believed to be having discussions to widen the profile of Apple TV+ by following a familiar playbook.
One senior executive heavily involved in streaming says Apple had “been approaching the Apple TV+ service as a virtual MVPD and trying to strike carriage deals.” Virtual MVPDs like AT&T TV Now and Sling TV have lately been struggling, with Sony throwing in the towel completely and shutting down PlayStation Vue earlier this year. Apple is “beginning to pivot and think more about on demand. … they haven’t yet thrown the kitchen sink at it like Amazon or Netflix.”
The business dynamic is a new twist for Apple. The company has long controlled devices or systems and made content or marketing deals with certain creators (such as long-ago licensing deals for the Bob Dylan or Beatles catalogs). Apple is no-w the maker of shows, looking for avenues beyond its own billion-plus devices to give them visibility.
Lee Berke, a sports media consultant who has worked for the YES Network and MSG Networks in New York, told Deadline that Apple is “sending a signal” that it is a player for big-time sports.
While the timing may not be right for the Pac-12, rights to significant pieces of real estate from the PGA Tour to the NHL to the NFL, will be transacted over the next two to three years. Facebook, YouTube, Amazon and Twitter have all dipped a toe into sports. Apple, given its trillion-dollar valuation and $200 billion-plus in cash on hand, certainly doesn’t lack for resources should it decide to go down that path.
“Just because we haven’t really talked about Apple until today doesn’t mean they aren’t out there,” Berke said.
Another high-level source who has participated in many major sports-rights deals in recent years tells Deadline he isn’t a buyer on the theory of tech triumphing over broadcast, even in a dramatically changed landscape. “I don’t see it,” he says. “There’s just a lot of dabbling going on.”
Anthony D’Alessandro contributed to this report.
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