Apple is dipping its toe into live programming, a totally new format for Apple TV Plus, which has stuck to on-demand original shows and movies since it launched in 2019.
Why it matters
With two MLB games now exclusive to yet another distributor, Friday Night Baseball is the latest example of how finding what you want to watch online is growing increasingly complicated.
Apple TV Plus’ Friday Night Baseball won’t throw its first pitch until the league and players’ union resolve their labor dispute, which has already delayed the start of the regular season. Talks are ongoing.
Apple TV Plus will stream two live baseball games on Friday nights, Apple said Tuesday, plus pre- and post-game shows, a nightly live highlights program and a new 24/7 feed of baseball-related video. Once the Major League Baseball season actually starts, the games will represent the first live sports on Apple’s $5-a-month subscription streaming service since it launched in late 2019. Up until now, Apple TV Plus stuck to on-demand original series and movies.
Apple said that “for a limited time,” the Friday night baseball would be available without a subscription. Apple didn’t respond to a message seeking specifics. Apple TV Plus already offers the premiere episodes of dozens of its original series without a subscription, but viewers must log in with an Apple ID in order to unlock them.
The news came at Apple’s product event, which also revealed upgrades to its iPhone SE, iPads and other hardware.
Calling the weekly programming block Friday Night Baseball, Apple TV Plus will stream two exclusive MLB games with pre- and postgame shows every Friday as soon as the regular season begins. Initially, Friday Night Baseball will be available for Apple TV Plus subscribers in the US and Puerto Rico, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and the UK; Apple said available it would expand to other countries later.
This year’s regular season has already been marred by cancellations of early games because of a labor dispute lockout. A week ago, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred canceled the first week of the regular season after the league and the players’ association missed their latest deadline to reach a deal.
Apple’s MLB partnership is giving Apple TV Plus opportunities to toy with other types of streaming programming new to the service, too. In the US, Apple TV Plus will launch a live, nightly show called MLB Big Inning, which will focus on highlights and “look-ins” every weekday during the regular season. And in the US and Canada, Apple TV Plus will have an always-on feed of MLB game replays, news, analysis, highlights and classic games. This kind of 24/7 “channel” is something that streaming competitor Peacock has proliferated on its service.
Netflix, the world’s dominant streaming video with 221 million members worldwide, abstains from live sports, saying the high cost to license them is out of wack with their actual value. But many of Netflix’s main streaming competitors dabble in live sports, trying to stake a claim to sports fans’ attention as more types of programming shift to streaming. Amazon Prime Video, NBCUniversal’s Peacock, Paramount Plus and HBO Max all include live sports, to various degrees.
Apple TV Plus is the gadget giant’s $5-a-month subscription video streaming service featuring Apple’s original TV shows and movies, competing with Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max and others. Unlike its main competitors, it doesn’t have the scale of a vast library. So far, Apple TV Plus has pitched itself as a low-priced option for a slimmer library of prestige shows and movies made with big budgets like award-winning sports dramedy Ted Lasso, Oscar-nominee CODA and satirical sci-fi thriller Severance.
With a multibillion-dollar budget to rope in some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Apple TV Plus was the first to step into the so-called “streaming wars,” a period when media giants and tech titans launched a flood of new streaming services to take on Netflix. This competition — pitting rookies like Apple TV Plus, HBO Max, Disney Plus and Peacock against heavyweights like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video — has spurred corporations to pour billions of dollars into their hope of shaping the future of television. For you, it means more services to sort through — and pay for — as you figure out what to watch.
CNET’s Ian Sherr contributed to this report.