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Apple TV+ is finally becoming relevant

Jon Stewart holds his awards during the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles
Reuters/Mike Blake
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Apple’s streaming service had a rough start, with few breakthrough shows and little customer adoption. But, a year after launching, that’s starting to change.

In a sign the company’s TV platform is turning a corner, comedian Jon Stewart will come out of semi-retirement for a current affairs series on Apple TV+, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Stewart has made only a few public appearances since leaving his 17-year role as host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show in 2015. The comedian likely could have gone to any network or streaming service. That he chose Apple speaks to the company’s recent strides in the entertainment industry.

Earlier this year Apple signed former HBO CEO Richard Plepler and his production company to a partnership to make TV series, films, and documentaries exclusively for Apple TV+. Stewart’s forthcoming show is the first publicly announced project that is a result of the deal with Plepler, who will serve as an executive producer. Plepler is one of the most respected names in television, and previously worked with Stewart at HBO on a series of projects that never came to fruition.

The Stewart news comes as Ted Lasso is quickly turning into a hit for Apple TV+. The comedy, starring Saturday Night Live alum Jason Sudeikis as an American college football coach asked to manage an English soccer club, boasts an 86% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and has enjoyed strong word-of-mouth buzz since debuting in August. Just days after it launched, Apple renewed it for a second season.

Meanwhile, Apple announced last week it obtained the exclusive streaming rights to the Peanuts holiday specials, including A Charlie Brown Christmas. Bloomberg reported Apple is now interested in buying rights to more existing shows and movies in order to build a library of content that’s more competitive with the likes of Netflix and AT&T’s HBO Max. When Apple TV+ launched, it had no back catalog, instead relying entirely on its original programming.

But now the company is both buying streaming rights and also improving its own content. Earlier this month it released a film from director Sofia Coppola, On the Rocks, which has earned plaudits from critics and could net Bill Murray, one of the film’s co-stars, an Oscar nomination. Its May film Greyhound, starring Tom Hanks, had a viewership that was “commensurate” with that of a theatrical box-office hit, Deadline reported. And now Apple will release Martin Scorsese’s next movie, an adaptation of the book Killers of the Flower Moon, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. The service also won its first Emmy, for The Morning Show actor Billy Crudup, last month.

All of these projects suggest the service is moving out of a proof-of-concept phase and into something more culturally significant. Apple needs Apple TV+ to become a service consumers actually want to opt into, rather than one they don’t even realize they have access to, as is the case with millions of iPhone users. As of May, Apple TV+ had about 10 million subscribers, but a chunk of those were users on a free trial (Apple has not divulged its current subscriber numbers). The service costs $5 per month.

The only thing ever truly holding back Apple TV+ from taking off was the content. Apple has the brand, money, and distribution to quickly make a streaming service successful, even in a crowded market. But a service is only as good as the content available on it. For the first year of Apple TV+, that content was spotty, at best. Now, thanks to the company’s ongoing investments and smart hires, Apple TV+ is making noise.

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