When you think of traditional problems that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) often finds itself facing, a few come to mind.
The point is between all of those real and likely fictional problems (that still get traction in the media) streaming has really never veered so far into that “trouble” lane. Yes, in the beginning it did when everything was so new and the company hadn’t found its footing, but lately it’s been on a roll.
Now it is all about keeping that momentum which has come with new and unexpected challenges.
First as always, some background.
In the past year (and change) Apple has turned its streaming division into a diamond in the rough and racked up two Emmys for Best Comedy Series for Ted Lasso and a Best Picture win at the Oscars for CODA.
For those keeping score, that tops Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) in both measures and that team has been at it for a substantially longer period of time. Yes, the first one through the wall is the bloodiest, but it has to sting for a company that has pumped untold millions of shareholder money into awards campaigns to keep coming up empty in the biggest races.
The point being Apple TV+ has climbed that mountain, but now comes the equally harder task of staying on top. CODA was a big win, but it was also a big surprise… Apple could not have confidently said on Oscar nomination morning (at least internally) that the movie would even be nominated, let alone win.
This was a unicorn of a film where so many things went their way in the right sequence of events that it will be hard to duplicate. And by the way, that’s not meant to take anything away from their team, those events only go in the right direction when people help shepherd them into the right direction – it is just so rare those moves work as well as they did in this competitive landscape.
In any case – onwards and upwards.
And that’s where the problem is…
Apple has long had two “next big things” in its film quiver - Killers of the Flower Moon with Martin Scorsese directing and Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro as the leads and Emancipation with Antoine Fuqua directing and Will Smith the lead.
See the problem?
Hint – it’s not Flower Moon.
Well not directly, Flower Moon is a whole other type of problem for Apple as it will be (at least as of now) the first Apple release to go theatrical, as part of a deal with Paramount, and then hit streaming versus the day/date approach that is more common.
The logistics of that roll-out and the ultimate comparisons to the rollout of Scorsese’s recent Irishman film with Netflix are going to be two areas that have to be sorted first with its team – but regardless that film isn’t slated until 2023 and those are challenges Apple knew about when they made the deal for the movie.
This was unexpected.
Emancipation was originally eyed for this upcoming award season until Will Smith self-imploded on national TV at the Oscars. Now it leaves Apple in a potentially no-win situation and a choice it has to make.
Release the movie as planned and be mired in “Slapgate,” delay the movie and hope this blows over in a year or the extreme option – sell it or burn it off and move on. Realistically, I don’t see that last one really being a viable option, but it’s one that had to have been discussed in the fallout of Smith’s bizarre actions earlier this year.
What makes Emancipation such a buzzy title is that it pairs Smith with Fuqua to tell the true story of the man known as “Whipped Peter,” whose scarred back became the rallying cry to help turn the tide of the Civil War.
Smith, despite his erratic personality, remains a gifted actor. He has shown he can do comedy and drama without missing a beat. Few actors can move effortlessly between the two, so you can see why hopes were SO high for this movie.
Remember, despite being banned from the Oscars itself and no longer being a member of the Academy, Smith is still eligible to be nominated, but will voters be able to look past the man and at his performance?
Possibly, but not this year.
Many voters are still embarrassed by the slap-heard-round-the-world and while the odds are low Smith would ever do something like that again, his past actions can’t be discounted.
Personally, I think releasing the movie this year does not go well for Apple and it would be best to wait. It just is not a good look for anyone and will take away from what by all accounts is a well-made movie on an important event in our country’s history.
Beyond that the campaign becomes about Smith and a “redemption” tour which the Oscars don’t want and Smith may not be fully ready to embrace. Realistically the best thing for Apple and its investors may be to just sit this out for a bit, let Smith’s comeback be with a different film/studio so those tough and unpleasant media conversations will happen, but tied to somebody else’s project.
To be clear, even in that scenario, Apple will still have to go down that road with Smith and the press, but it will help them to not have to be first.
Apple has worked hard to build a strong reputation in this space and convince both critics and investors this was the right place for it to be – especially given it had no prior experience in the area. This is a decision that will be analyzed across the board, even more so because it's Apple, so you can bet this is not going to be something that gets decided overnight.
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