Apple claimed its TV+ service had fewer than 20 million subscribers in the U.S. and Canada in July, allowing behind-the-scenes production staff to pay lower rates than higher-subscription streamers, according to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a union that works for TV. – and represents film workers performing tasks such as operating cameras and building sets.
Apple never revealed subscriber numbers for its Apple TV+ streaming service, which was launched in the fall of 2019. Analysts are hesitant to give estimates, but many say the scale pales in comparison to services like Netflix, which claimed 209 million subscribers as of the second quarter, and Disney+, which claimed 116 million.
The fact that Apple can afford a discounted rate despite being the most valuable publicly traded company in the world highlights some of the problems Hollywood workers face as streaming displaces linear TV and movies, and angers union members who decide. whether they want to strike for better wages and working conditions.
Under the current contract, high-budget productions intended for streaming can offer lower rates to employees if the streaming service has fewer than 20 million subscribers in the US and Canada, which is set on July 1 each year. Apple told IATSE it had fewer than 20 million subscribers, a union spokesman said.
The union is currently negotiating a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Apple is a member of the alliance, but the alliance negotiates for all its members and does not create exceptions for specific companies, an industry group spokesperson said.
An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on the number of subscribers, but said the company pays rates in line with leading streaming services.
Under the current contract, streaming service productions are subject to less strict terms of employment than traditional TV shows or movies, as streaming profitability is “currently uncertain” and productions need more flexibility, according to a copy of the contract reviewed by CNBC.
But union leaders argue that streaming is no longer a particularly new form of media, and that companies that fund streaming productions should pay rates closer to traditional media productions.
“Employees on certain ‘new media’ streaming projects are being paid less, even for productions with budgets comparable to or higher than those of traditionally released blockbusters,” said an IATSE press release this week, noting that negotiations had stalled. .
IATSE is gearing up for a strike, the spokesman said, and ballots allowing the union’s 150,000 members to authorize a strike will be sent out on Oct. 1.
While new media rates are one of the topics currently under negotiation, working conditions on set, including long working hours, which have deteriorated during the Covid-19 pandemic, are the most pressing issue, the union spokesman said. Celebrities and actors have started posting on social media in support of the IATSE union and possible strikes.
Apple has reportedly spent up to $15 million per episode of shows like “The Morning Show” trying to expand its service with premium content. Apple also bundled free trials with the purchase of new phones or tablets, and those trials began to expire in July, forcing many users to decide whether it was worth $4.99 a month. Apple sold an estimated 206 million iPhones worldwide in 2020, which equates to a lot of free trials.
NBCUniversal’s Peacock and ViacomCBS’s Paramount+ also have fewer than 20 million subscribers, allowing them to demand discounts on labor, the union spokesman said.
A ViacomCBS spokesperson said the company does not distribute Paramount+ streaming songs. NBCUniversal had no comment at the time of publication.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal, owner and operator of Peacock, is also the parent company of CNBC.