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Apple is battling Amazon to control the future of TV bundles

Tim Cook TV
Reuters/Beck Diefenbach
Or app.
By Ashley Rodriguez
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

There’s a battle brewing over who will control the next generation of TV bundles—one that brings all our online video services into a central app.

Amazon has been selling video subscriptions to platforms like HBO and Showtime on top of Amazon Prime since 2015. Now Apple is trying to get in on the action.

Apple, which long has rented and sold TV shows and movies through iTunes, plans to start selling certain video subscriptions through its TV app in the next year, Bloomberg reports. It’d be similar to the way Apple sells news subscriptions through the News app.

The TV app already allows viewers to find content from other video providers like AMC, Hulu, and HBO. It sends them to the individual services’ apps via the App Store to subscribe to or get access. Selling subscriptions within the TV app could make it a hub for buying, discovering, and watching video.

The average American has four video services—each paid for and accessed through individual apps. There are 5,000 apps available on Roku devices, with content providers all trying to connect directly with viewers. Audiences are looking for ways to simplify finding and watching programming across these apps, research shows (pdf). Apple and Amazon are trying to do that by aggregating the major platforms into single apps—ones that they control. They’re offering à la carte versions of the TV bundles of old—without the aggravating contracts and fees.

Amazon, as one of the world’s largest marketplaces, started bundling video subscriptions through its Channels program in 2015. Its 100 million Prime subscribers can add on packages from more than 140 streaming services in the US and about 235 around the world. They include services such as AMC, Shudder, Showtime, or CBS All Access. Prime Video, which is part of the $99-a-year Prime shipping subscription in the US and can be bought separately as well, also has a robust library of licensed and original programming. Users can search and watch the content from other providers within the Prime Video app, too. If Amazon can get most of the major players onto Channels, audiences would almost never have to leave it.

Down the line, Bloomberg reports, Apple could bring streaming content from other providers into its TV app, as well. The company has been bolstering its content library, expanding from a few reality shows on Apple Music to bidding against networks like HBO for original series.

Tech giants aren’t the only ones trying to become the gateway to viewers. Hulu, a joint venture by traditional TV companies, has an on-demand package, live-TV services, and a few add-on options like HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax. Pay TV providers Comcast and Sky are also starting to sell Netflix alongside standard TV packages, and Comcast customers can stream YouTube on X1 set-top boxes.

“Eventually TV content is going to distill down into a set of content producers and a handful of companies that control the audience,” said Toby Chapman, associate partner at global strategy consultant OC&C.

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