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Apple TV+ Growth Stalls; Does Service Need More ‘Lean-Back’ Programming?

David Satin

Since its inception, Apple TV+ has always straddled the line between niche streaming service and mainstream offering. The streamer has a focus on original shows and movies, with a premium placed on quality instead of relying on a large quantity of content to drive engagements.

That strategy may not be paying long-term dividends for the service, however. A new survey from financial services conglomerate UBS, as reported by Yahoo! Finance, shows that just 22% of iPhone users are currently subscribed to Apple TV+, roughly the same number as before the COVID-19 pandemic drove a huge surge in streaming subscriptions across the board.

Users aren’t renewing their Apple TV+ subscriptions at a staggering rate, either. UBS’s survey found that only 51% of its users auto-renew, as compared to 64% for Prime Video, 63% for Netflix, and 60% for Disney+. Users cite a lack of value compared with other services as the main reason for leaving Apple TV+ behind. The company doesn’t release its subscriber numbers for Apple TV+ publicly, so it’s impossible to know the exact figures, but it appears that the service has plateaued for the moment, according to UBS.

As the cheapest premium ad-free streaming service at $6.99 per month, some might question why so many users thought the service lacked value. But a closer look at Apple TV+’s content library reveals the stark difference in size between it and services like Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, etc. Apple TV+ spends only $6.5 billion on content per year, and even with other media outlets pulling back their content outlays, most still spend more than twice that amount. Netflix will spend around $17 billion on content this year, nearly triple Apple’s budget.

Apple TV+ also saw a 40% price increase at the end of October 2022. It’s certainly not alone in raising prices; Disney’s family of streaming services all raised prices in 2022, and HBO Max did the same early in 2023. Paramount+ executives recently released details about an upcoming price jump for that service, as well.

The difference between those services and Apple TV+ boils down to content. Disney’s streamers did not make any major feature updates or add a glut of new shows and movies when they raised prices, but they already offer much more content than Apple TV+. HBO Max will add most of the content from discovery+ in the next few months, and Paramount+ will import the programming from premium cable channel SHOWTIME onto its platform.

By comparison, Apple TV+ has made fairly minor additions. Apple did strike a deal to stream every Major League Soccer game for the next 10 years on MLS Season Pass, but that requires a separate subscription. If Apple TV+ wants to become a better value in the eyes of consumers, offering a bundled subscription with Season Pass would be a good start; current Apple TV+ subscribers receive a discount on the soccer package, but it would be fairly easy to give Season Pass customers a free or discounted subscription to Apple TV+ as well.

Beyond that, Apple should also consider adding more “lean-back” programming to its lineup. Lean-back programming is an industry term referring to shows that allow viewers to lean back and enjoy without giving a show their full attention, as opposed to forcing them to lean forward and watch intently. FX chairman John Landegraf recently estimated that as much as 80% of all TV watching is lean-back, and adding a few more of these types of shows would round out Apple TV+’s library.

The service is attempting to bring more of that type of entertainment to its platform already. “The Reluctant Traveler With Eugene Levy” is coming to Apple TV+ this week, which definitely falls into the lean-back category. But Apple TV+ should not only add more of this content, it should also make a point of emphasizing it better. The service’s prestige shows generate plenty of buzz from critics, but they haven’t driven the type of engagement that Apple would undoubtedly like to see going forward.

It’s not all bad news for Apple TV+. The service will debut a new season of its most popular show, “Ted Lasso,” in a few weeks, which should lead to at least a temporary bump in subscribers. Apple TV+ also isn’t dealing with big subscriber losses, as streamers like Disney+ are. But Apple TV+ will clearly need to make some changes to its programming and operating procedures if it wants to become a better value to users.

Apple TV+

Apple TV+ is a subscription video streaming service for $6.99 a month that includes high-quality original shows and movies including Best Picture winner “CODA,” popular sitcom “Ted Lasso,” and dramas like “The Morning Show” and “Severance.” Apple TV+ is also home to MLB baseball games on Friday nights and MLS Season Pass.

If you purchase an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV, you can get a free year of Apple TV+.


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