Oprah Winfrey had the best explanation for what the weird Apple TV event was really about

Key Points
  • Apple introduced a bunch of new premium services on Monday but was short on details, like how much they'll cost.
  • Oprah Winfrey explained why all of this matters: the iPhone.
  • She noted that the Apple is in a billion people's pockets, which means Apple has a billion people that it can market its new services to.
Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., waves while onstage with Oprah Winfrey, chief executive officer of Oprah Winfrey Network LLC, during an event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California, U.S., on Monday, March 25, 2019.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Apple talked a lot on stage on Monday about its new services, including Apple News+, Apple TV+, a credit card it's launching with Goldman Sachs and an all-you-can-eat gaming subscription named Arcade. But Apple provided little detail on how many of those services would work.

It didn't announce pricing for Apple TV+, perhaps the biggest news of the day, and trotted celebrities on stage to talk about new movies and TV shows instead of showing trailers or revealing a sprawling library capable of challenging Amazon and Netflix. Wall Street wasn't impressed. It was, plainly put, a weird event that was short on details.

But Oprah Winfrey had the best take on why all of this matters when she appeared on Apple's stage.

"The Apple platform allows me to do what I do in a whole new way," she said, sounding a bit like everyone who had appeared before her.

But then she said this:

"They're in a billion pockets, y'all. A billion pockets."

Oprah was referring to the number of iPhones being used around the world where Apple's premium services will come pre-installed. Apple no longer reports individual unit sales of its hardware products each quarter but said in January that there are now more than 900 million iPhones in use around the world.

On top of that, there are hundreds of millions of iPads, Macs and Apple TVs in use today. Plus, Apple's TV services will be available on third-party devices like Roku and Amazon Fire TV.

Steven Spielberg talks about Apple TV+ at the Apple Spring Event on March 25th, 2019.
Source: Apple

Apple needs to convert those 1 billion people to users of its premium services. And we still don't know a whole lot on how it plans to do that, since it's anyone's guess how good its TV content will be. But remember it has 1 billion devices to advertise on, too.

"What I'm interested analyzing in practice is how Apple will market to its installed base," said Patrick Moorhead, founder and president of Moor Insights & Strategy. "Will there be pop-ups that aren't allowed by other service providers like Netflix or Amazon Video? Will Apple's services get top billing in the Store?"

One billion people probably won't sign up for everything Apple announced Monday, but Apple stands to make a lot of money if just a fraction of them do. That's the power of its iPhone install base.

But forget services for a second.

The bottom line is Apple is still the iPhone company. After all, the iPhone generated $51.98 billion of Apple's total $84.3 billion in revenue last quarter. It's on the back of the iPhone that Apple has the potential to boost its services business.

It's also the iPhone that attracted Hollywood to the event in the first place. If a billion people didn't own it, you wouldn't have seen Oprah, Steven Spielberg and other stars talking about how excited they are to make content for Apple TV+.

The event might have been weird, and Apple may have been shy on details, but none of that really matters. All that matters is that the platform Apple will launch these services on is already in a billion pockets.

Apple TV+ is a natural evolution for the company, analyst says
Apple TV+ is a natural evolution for the company, analyst says