Apple streams MLB games on Apple TV Plus for the first time

Max Scherzer #21 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch in the third inning against the Miami Marlins in a Spring Training game at Roger Dean Stadium on March 21, 2022 in Jupiter, Florida.

Highlight Brown | Getty Images

Beginning Friday, Apple TV+ will stream a weekly doubleheader of MLB games.

For the most part, it’s similar to watching a ball game on a traditional broadcast network, but with a few extra features like the option to ask Siri for player stats or listen to your favorite player’s at-bat song on Apple Music. It’s also free for now. There’s no need to subscribe to Apple TV+, which costs $4.99 a month, to watch. But it could help Apple sell more iPhones.

Apple’s first significant foray into sports broadcasting hints at its broader strategy with Apple TV+, which by all accounts — including Apple’s — has far fewer subscribers than players like Netflix, Disney+, and HBO Max. While those services have more shows and movies than you could ever wish for in life, the Apple TV+ library is smaller and more carefully curated by humans, not an algorithm.

And while no one at Apple would complain if TV+ gained Netflix-level subscribers, that’s not the ultimate goal. I spoke to Apple officials on Thursday, who told me their focus isn’t on dominating market share with services like Apple TV+. Instead, they want to focus on quality. (Of course, one could easily argue that a lot more people would sign up for Apple TV+ if that were the case that Good.)

This made me think of something I wrote two years ago when Apple TV+ was just getting started. Apple TV+ wasn’t designed to take on Netflix. It’s more like classic HBO — a prestige collection of Emmy and Oscar bait, without much filler in between.

The experiment works on this front. Apple last month picked up the Best Picture Oscar for “CODA” and multiple Emmys for “Ted Lasso,” including Outstanding Comedy Series. Meanwhile, dystopian workplace drama Severance became a hit this year, drawing critics rave and Apple ordering a second season.

Netflix may have big hits like “Stranger Things” and “Squid Game,” but each of these shows has dozens of programming options like “The Floor is Lava.” Netflix offers a lot of quality, but much of that can get lost in the noise.

Think of Apple TV+ as well as all the extras that come with your Amazon Prime subscription. Apple doesn’t need to make a huge profit from streaming TV. It just needs it as one more weapon in its arsenal to keep you buying iPhones and other Apple devices. The new addition of live baseball games is a good experiment for Apple to see if it can generate enough interest to expand its sports offering across the board on Apple TV+, while others like Netflix avoid live sports programming.

It also explains why Apple will reportedly launch an iPhone hardware subscription service, giving you the option to bundle Apple offerings like TV+ with a new iPhone each year for a flat annual or monthly price. That would be a double whammy for Apple. It would get more customers upgrading their phones every year (rather than every three or four years) and attract more subscribers to its services like TV+, Apple Music, and Apple News.

Analysts at Deutsche Bank saw the same opportunity, saying in a research note on Friday that the potential hardware and services bundle would “drastically” increase subscribers to Apple’s digital services. That, in turn, would be a key catalyst for the stock.

It all boils down to the same story we’ve seen at Apple since it began its foray into online services a few years ago. The iPhone remains the top earner, while everything else, from AirPods to Apple TV+, is designed to retain customers and upgrade their devices.

Streaming sports is just another part of this lock-in.

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