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Apple's Interest in Original Content Included Bill Simmons

Apple was interested in a podcast deal with the sports star. Didn't happen, but it's worth noting.

Amy Sussman / Getty Images / The New Yorker
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Does Apple want to produce its own TV shows and movies?

Maybe! Hollywood sources say the company has indeed discussed the idea with various industry executives, as Variety reported last night. That’s a whole lot different from saying it’s going to happen, though, or that it would happen at any kind of scale. “They’re kicking tires,” said one studio executive, who predicts that nothing will come of it.

Still, Apple has shown an appetite for funding entertainment content that it would own exclusively, or at least for an exclusive window.

Last year, as Apple was preparing to launch its Apple Music service, Apple exec Jimmy Iovine was floating the notion of signing up some recording artists to exclusive contracts, sources say. Instead, Apple has done much more modest exclusives — like getting the rights to a Pharrell song for a limited time.

And more recently, Apple showed interest in signing up former ESPN star Bill Simmons to an exclusive audio podcast deal. Apple media boss Eddy Cue discussed the idea a couple of times with Simmons this summer, say people familiar with the talks, who say that they were preliminary at best.

In July, Simmons ended up signing a “major exclusive multi-year, multi-platform agreement” with HBO; an HBO rep says that deal includes a podcast that should debut in October. It’s reasonable to assume that those podcasts will be available on Apple’s iTunes platform, as well as other outlets.

It’s not surprising that Cue talked to Simmons about some kind of deal in the past few months — once ESPN cut him loose in May, everyone talked to Simmons, who may be the most powerful individual voice in sports. I’m told that Yahoo, for instance, made a big push to get Simmons to work for it on its video platform.

Still, the fact that Apple made an inquiry this time around is worth noting. Maybe its conversations with other talent will go further.

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