Apple Music could lead to Apple spending $10 billion annually on content

Key Points
  • Apple Music gets little respect compared to, say, Spotify.
  • By deciding to charge for Apple Music — instead of giving it away for free — Apple has even more resources to throw at content
A man dances to music being streamed on his Apple iPhone whilst framed against a wall bearing the Apple music symbol .
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Apple debuted its new piece of original content — "Planet of the Apps" — last week to pretty meh reviews. I enjoyed Variety's skewering of the new reality show:

"[It] feels like something that was developed at a cocktail party, and not given much more rigorous thought or attention after the pitcher of mojitos was drained.

It's not terrible, but essentially, it's a bland, tepid, barely competent knock-off of 'Shark Tank.' Apple made its name on game-changing innovations, but this show is decidedly not one of them."

If you haven't caught the show yet, it's probably because you don't yet subscribe to Apple Music — the $10-a-month service characterized as Apple's answer to Spotify. All the music you want, streamable whenever you want.

When Apple Music launched two years ago, it had been almost nine years since Spotify was founded.

As a result, perhaps, Apple Music was never really embraced by the mainstream business press.

Gizmodo asked at its launch: "How Is Apple Music Actually Different From Spotify (Or Anything Else)?" (It called it "yet another music streaming service.") TechCrunch wondered if it was "Ping 2.0?" Their final verdict on the service: "It's OK." (It also thought Apple should offer a free tier.)

Two years later, Apple Music has 27 million paid subscribers. Assuming they're all paying $10 a month (and we know a few are not), that's a nice little $3.2 billion annual revenue stream Apple has generated.

Yet, Apple Music continues to get no respect. Google "Spotify dwarfs Apple Music" and you will get 13.5 million results.

One of the first links that comes up is this one from Business Insider with the headline: "I just switched to Apple Music after two years of Spotify Premium — and so far, I'm not impressed." I continue to see articles which point out that Spotify — with 50 million paid subscribers — "dwarfs" Apple Music with its 27 million.

The fact is that Apple took 24 months to get to 27 million paid subs. It took Spotify 84 months to get to that same level.

Look at this chart from Horace Dediu:

Apple music tweet

Apple Music is far from a laggard. If anything, it validates how powerful the Apple platform is that it can be so late to a market and still experience such hyper-growth.

Now it's expanding beyond music into video content. Even if they missed the mark with "Planet of the Apps," it's important to remember that Netflix's first piece of original content was "Lillyhammer" and not "House of Cards" (that was its second). Apple will learn and get better (especially if it hires ex-HBO content head Michael Lombardo, as rumors have suggested lately).

If Apple is going to give compelling video and audio content as part of Apple Music, its continued white-hot growth in subs should continue.

To be clear, just because Apple Music will continue to grow doesn't mean that Spotify can't. It won't be a zero sum game. Apple Music, Spotify and Netflix can all be successful streaming subscription services.

Apple isn't pushing Apple Music to be a massive moneymaker for them. It's doing it to allow it to reinvest in a big way into content, making its ecosystem even more valuable than it already is to its users.

Yes, Apple Music's current $3.2 billion-a-year run rate is nothing to sniff at. It's about half the annual revenue of current stock market darling Nvidia. But even if it got to a $10 billion-a-year run rate with 80 million paid subs, it's important to recall that Apple's current annual revenue is $220 billion. Apple Music will always a drop in the bucket.

By deciding to charge for Apple Music — instead of giving it away for free — Apple has even more resources to throw at content. Maybe it pays for exclusive music from Drake or Chance the Rapper. Maybe it pays for future "Planet of the Apps." Or maybe it gives Lombardo (if he joins Apple) a $10 billion-a-year content budget (when Apple gets to 80 million subs) instead of the $2 billion-a-year content budget he had at HBO.

Spending $10 billion a year on content is nothing to sniff at. Netflix is spending $6 billion this year on content. Amazon is spending $4.5 billion.

Apple is not dipping its toe in the water with "Planet of the Apps" to make money from it. It is building a streaming service that helps solidify the value of the Apple ecosystem for the 212 million people who bought iPhones last year and to keep them upgrading as frequently as possible. Apple wants people to get hooked on their HomePod speakers to use with Apple Music and not on Amazon Echo or Google Home.

Apple Music houses big ambitions for Apple. Two years in, it's off to a great start — whether or not "Planet of the Apps" is a hit.

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