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Apple TV Plus' 'Defending Jacob' is a hit, but new data suggests subscriber growth is sluggish

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  • Apple TV Plus sign-ups in March and April were no greater than February sign-ups, according to the research company Antenna, suggesting that the streaming service's subscriber growth is slow compared to others during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • But audience demand for Apple's original TV shows has grown since March, according to Parrot Analytics, particularly its breakout hit, "Defending Jacob."
  • Viewers of the series aren't watching other Apple originals on the platform, though, Parrot data suggests.
  • Apple has recently bought old TV shows and movies to grow a library of licensed content, according to Bloomberg, but it may not be enough to break out in a crowded sea of streaming services with more bang for the buck. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

With people stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, streaming is on the rise.

Disney Plus and Hulu are likely the services seeing the biggest gains in US subscribers since the outbreak began, according to a recent survey from TV analytics firm EDO (the former has gained over 54.5 million subscribers since launching in November, and the latter had more than 30 million as of February). And Netflix exceeded expectations in its Q1 earnings report last month, adding 15.8 million subscribers globally. It now has 183 million subscribers worldwide.

But the data isn't as clear cut for Apple TV Plus.

Data from the research company Antenna, which is based on a variety of anonymized transactional data sources (like credit card transactions), suggests that Apple TV Plus is the only major streaming service that hasn't surged in subscribers while people practice social distancing. Antenna said that Apple TV Plus sign-ups in March and April, when coronavirus guidelines were implemented, were no greater than February sign-ups.

But audiences might, however, be warming to Apple TV Plus' programming.

Data from Parrot Analytics provided to Business Insider suggests there's been increased "demand" for Apple TV Plus' original programming recently. The data company doesn't look at subscribers, but measures audience demand, which reflects viewership, engagement, and desire weighted by importance. The demand share in the US for Apple TV Plus' programming among other streamers had increased by more than 10% in the seven weeks after March 11.

"The impact the pandemic is having on audience demand has certainly helped Apple TV Plus so far," said Parrot Analytics partnerships director Steve Langdon, adding that "Defending Jacob," starring Chris Evans, had been a breakout hit for the platform.

In the six months since its debut, the service's content selection is slim, but there is high demand for what is available, according to Parrot.

Is that enough to grow a significant subscriber base?

It's unclear how many people are actually using Apple TV Plus

Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, based on anonymous sources familiar with the matter, that about 10 million people had signed up for Apple TV Plus by February, but only half were actually using it.

Apple hasn't publicly revealed subscriber numbers. CEO Tim Cook has only said that Apple TV Plus was "off to a rousing start," as of January.

And while the Antenna data didn't specify exact subscriber numbers, the fact that they weren't increasing in recent months, as other streaming services have surged, does not bode well.

the morning show

'Defending Jacob' is a hit, but it may not be enough to inspire growth

Despite a lack of surging subscribers, Apple TV Plus might have its first real hit.

Deadline recently reported that the latest Apple original series, "Defending Jacob," was Apple TV Plus' biggest premiere since the launch. According to Parrot Analytics, "Defending Jacob" has been more than 32 times more in demand than the average show in the US since premiering last month. But while "Defending Jacob" is popular with audiences, its viewers aren't watching other shows on the platform, Parrot Analytics said.

Some of Apple's original series have received lukewarm to downright bad reviews from critics, with some exceptions like "Little America."

"Defending Jacob" has a 70% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, while others are labeled "rotten," like "See" starring Jason Momoa (44%) and "Truth Be Told" starring Octavia Spencer (32%). Its initial flagship series, "The Morning Show," starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, debuted with poor reviews that slightly improved as the season progressed (it sits at a 60% critic score now). 

Apple was probably hoping for a better reception after heavily investing in such star-powered shows.

With few original programs available, even its biggest shows might not be enough to sustain a strong subscriber base. And with film and TV productions shut down across the entertainment industry due to the coronavirus, it's safe to assume second seasons of some of its high-profile series like "The Morning Show" will be delayed, leaving the service starving for more content.

Apple TV Plus is still a disappointing deal

At $4.99 per month, Apple TV Plus is the cheapest major streaming service available right now, but it's still a disappointing deal. The service's original releases have been few and far between and despite how popular "Defending Jacob" is with its users, it still doesn't have a "blockbuster" series like a "Witcher" (Netflix) or a "Mandalorian" (Disney Plus) to drive interest. 

Apple is taking some measures to potentially remedy these growth and content concerns.

The company has purchased some older movies and TV shows and have taken pitches from studios about licensing content, according to Bloomberg. It's the first of what would be licensed content for Apple TV Plus in a space where rivals like Netflix and Disney Plus have large libraries of it. And Deadline reported on Tuesday that the upcoming World War II movie "Greyhound," starring Tom Hanks, will skip its theatrical release and head straight to Apple TV Plus.

But with so many other options on the table — from existing streaming giants like Netflix, Disney Plus, and Hulu to upcoming competitors like WarnerMedia's HBO Max and NBCUniversal's Peacock — Apple TV Plus may struggle to break through the crowd even if Apple expands its content library.

SEE ALSO: The 8 streaming TV shows gaining the most buzz this week, from Hulu's 'The Great' to DC's 'Stargirl'

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