CNN | 4/20/2019 | Listen

Apple's new TV looks a lot like the old TV

Updated 5:54 PM ET, Mon March 25, 2019

(CNN) - From afar -- that is, through the distance of live streaming -- Apple's eagerly awaited announcement about its TV production plans were the least interesting aspect of a multi-pronged presentation Monday, designed to bring the company's unique brand of innovation (its "iTouch," as it were) to various product sectors.

Apple dealt with distribution of news and magazines, a new credit card and gaming before it got down to the business of Hollywood, where the prevailing message appeared to be, "We come in peace. Plus, look at all these celebrities!"

The main problem is that while all of the previous flourishes felt evolutionary -- like next-generation applications in each of those areas -- the model for program distribution and original production basically came across as Apple's addition to what everyone else is trying to do.

The new boss, in other words, still looks a lot like the old one -- a polished wrinkle, perhaps, but hardly a revolution.

Indeed, the main takeaway from the programming portion of the festivities is that there's no reinventing the wheel -- that Apple is in the same business as networks, studios and streamers, which involves courting talent and seeking to identify hits. The same applied, largely, to its efforts to streamline distribution, although at least the sales pitch there -- a more a la carte-based approach in which you "Only pay for what you want" -- has a clear potential consumer benefit.

By contrast, even trotting out huge show-business names -- bookended by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, in what amounted to an unintended "The Color Purple" reunion -- had the general feel of any traditional TV upfront presentation, where stars and filmmakers appear to help woo media buyers.

Perhaps that's why the Apple executives proved more effective in pitching their products than the celebrity banter, which any seasoned attendee of the annual ritual known as the upfronts has heard time and again.

Yes, Apple had a lot of wattage on the marquee. But so do any number of other services and networks, which can present their own movie stars and Oscar winners, and do. Reese Witherspoon, after all, is currently in another show at HBO, and it's not like Apple is going to be the exclusive platform to watch projects from Spielberg, J.J. Abrams or Winfrey.

Apple's relentlessly upbeat CEO, Tim Cook, stressed the power of television, and its ability to do good in the world. Nothing speaks to that idea more than allying oneself with Winfrey, who is among the few talents who have been able to elevate what has often been derisively called "broccoli TV" -- programming designed to enrich you -- into a viable commercial vehicle.

For the most part, though, Apple's programming lineup could just have easily landed on any other premium platform. And based simply on the volume involved, it appears to be more of a garnish to the proposed distribution model than the main reason for anteing up for it.

Apple's billions, like other major tech competitors, instantly establish the company as a force to be watched -- and reckoned with.

Still, while TV marked the climax of Monday's presentation, this was one of those live shows where the opening acts, frankly, outshined the headliner.


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