Apple poaches Sony’s ‘Breaking Bad’ execs in hard push for its own TV programmes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 2017, 1:22am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 June, 2017, 5:00am

Apple has poached two long-time Sony Pictures Television executives to expand the iPhone maker’s push into original television programming, plunging deeper into a field crowded by Hollywood studios and online streaming services.

Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, responsible for hit shows such as “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul” and “The Crown,” will join Apple in newly created positions that will oversee all aspects of video programming, the technology giant said in a statement on Friday. The pair have been Sony Pictures presidents since 2005.

“Jamie and Zack are two of the most talented TV executives in the world and have been instrumental in making this the golden age of television,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services.

“There is much more to come,” Cue said of Apple’s video effort.

Hollywood has been awaiting the entry of deep-pocketed Apple into original video series, an increasingly competitive market.

Apple began its move into the field last week, with a reality programme called “Planet of the Apps,” an unscripted show about developers competing for venture capital funding.

Social media giant Facebook Inc has signed deals with millennial-focused news and entertainment creators, including Vox and BuzzFeed, to make shows for its upcoming video service , while Amazon and Netflix have invested billions of dollars in award-winning comedies and dramas.

Apple, based in Cupertino, California, has been adding documentaries and reality shows to its Apple Music subscription service, providing a way to test video streaming. The iPhone maker could use exclusive video as a way to keep rival services from dragging customers away from its products, though creating buzzworthy programmes is difficult and expensive. Netflix alone will spend more than US$6 billion this year on programming, including about 1,000 hours of original shows.

Apple is aiming to double its revenue from services by 2020 from last year’s US$24 billion. The company introduced a TV app last year that serves as a gateway to other video providers’ offerings, and is negotiating with studios to offer films via iTunes closer to the theatrical release date, people familiar with the discussions have said.

“We want to bring to video what Apple has been so successful with in their other services and consumer products — unparalleled quality,” Erlicht said in the statement.

The company’s future programming includes an adaptation of comedian James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” segment from his CBS show that will begin airing in August, and documentaries about Sean Combs and Clive Davis.

As tech companies push further into the content business, pressure mounts on traditional media companies that do not have the same amount of data on viewers or the ability for content to be a loss leader, said Rich Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG. “These companies do not need to make money off video because they can make money other ways,” Greenfield said. “And they are going to have tonnes of data on their viewers.”

While the news of Apple’s hires is a warning to legacy media companies in general, it is particularly bad news for Walt Disney Co, which had been rumoured to be an acquisition target for Apple, Greenfield said.

“It’s pretty clear now that Apple isn’t buying Disney,” he said.

Apple has one huge advantage compared to other media companies - 1 billion iPhones, iPads and other devices that run Apple’s mobile operating system and offer a broad distribution platform for video programming.

For Sony, the departures come as the Japanese conglomerate revamps its movie and television studio under new Chief Executive Tony Vinciquerra. In a memo to staff, Vinciquerra suggested Apple could be a buyer of Sony programming.

“While we are sad to see them go, we are excited by the opportunity to work with them as partners in the future,” he said.