Since it announced its high-end video ambitions one year ago this week, Apple has been seeking major names to provide it an identity.
Touting a “unique, multi-year content partnership,” the company said in a statement that Winfrey will “create original programs that embrace her incomparable ability to connect with audiences around the world.”
Apple hasn’t said on what platform all of its original video programming will live — shows could exist as a separate subscription service or be packaged with non-video content, such as Apple Music, among other options. Winfrey will appear personally in at least some of the programming, according to a person familiar with the arrangement who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the star.
The deal provides luster for both parties.
For Winfrey, it offers a toehold in a streaming world that she had previously stayed out of and cements her status as an entertainment-business pioneer. She helped revolutionized the business of syndicated talk shows in the 1980s and 1990s, overhauled the nature of product endorsement via that show and was among the first celebrities to launch and oversee an entire cable network.
For Apple, the announcement is significant for its own reasons, solidifying its status — both with consumers and in the Hollywood agent community — as a destination for original programming. It comes as both traditional and digital players stockpile content creators in the belief that they will give them an edge in the digital-content wars. Netflix recently signed producer Ryan Murphy for a deal worth as much as $300 million, and Warner Bros. extended its deal with producer Greg Berlanti for a pact valued at $400 million.
The deal marks at least the third major get for Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, the former Sony Pictures Television executives whom Apple hired in mid-June 2017. The company late last year landed a Reese Witherspoon-Jennifer Aniston dramedy set in the world of morning TV, which it is actively developing with “Bates Motel” showrunner Kerry Ehrin, and also is collaborating with Steven Spielberg for a revival of his 1980s anthology series “Amazing Stories.” It is expected to begin streaming its first content — either one or more of these three main gets — next year.
Friday’s deal won’t affect Winfrey’s involvement with OWN, the majority-Discovery-backed cable network at which she is under contract to serve as chairman and chief executive for seven more years. How Winfrey will divvy content between her two platforms, however, remains to be seen.
The news comes a few weeks after Winfrey’s close friend and frequent guest, former president Barack Obama, signed a comprehensive agreement with Netflix to produce a wide range of content for that company. Unlike that deal, though, Winfrey comes with a large existing production infrastructure that could have a pipeline of shows and movies available more imminently.
The juxtaposition with the Obama news raises the specter of Winfrey’s political ambitions, which many observers have sought to stoke even though she has said she has none.