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Oprah will make stuff for Apple’s big, ambitious TV plans. But what are Apple’s TV plans?

We have some ideas.

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey
Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images
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.

We still don’t know what Apple’s TV plans are, but we do know Apple wants us to know it is serious about its TV plans.

Latest example: Apple says it has a “unique, multi-year content partnership” with Oprah Winfrey, who will “create original programs that embrace her incomparable ability to connect with audiences around the world.”

Apple didn’t offer any other details about what Winfrey would make and whether she would star in the stuff she makes for them, though it’s a very reasonable bet that she will. She’ll continue to work on other projects, like her Oprah Winfrey Network and CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Also not spelled out in Apple’s brief message to the press: Whether the “content partnership” would extend beyond video projects.

Apple’s Winfrey announcement follows similar announcements about video projects involving Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Steven Spielberg and other well-known creators and brands, all engineered by Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, the former Sony executives Apple hired to reboot its original content plans last year.

But Apple still hasn’t told the world — or most people in Hollywood, including some of the ones it is making deals with — what it plans to do with all the stuff it is making. Except that it won’t be ready to roll that stuff out until the spring of 2019, at the earliest.

In the meantime, here are some of the theories and thoughts TV and media executives have about Apple’s content plans. Note that these aren’t mutually exclusive:

  • Some industry observers expect Apple to make some or all of the content available for free for users of Apple’s TV app, which Apple first introduced as a would-be TV guide/hub a couple years ago, and is installed by default on all of its devices. Apple has told some industry executives it intends to strengthen that hub by making it a focal point to sell subscriptions to other companies’ TV services, as Amazon already does.
  • Other watchers are convinced Apple will bundle all of its content into a very big subscription service, which would include Apple Music, along with other benefits like AppleCare.
  • Most interesting and confusing to me: One TV executive who has talked to Apple tells me Apple says it intends to sell a standalone subscription to its original video shows, priced below Netflix, whose standard offering costs $11 a month in the U.S.

Hard to figure out what the consumer proposition for that standalone subscription is: Even with the flurry of programming announcements Apple has made in recent months, it is unlikely to have more than a couple dozen shows ready for air over the next year, and it has yet to acquire a library of content to backstop the new stuff.

Meanwhile, every other digital TV subscription service, from Netflix to HBO Now to CBS All Access, offers a mix of new shows backed with a large catalog of older stuff. It’s possible that Apple will argue that its stuff is so special it’s worth paying a few bucks a month for it. Or, alternately, that Apple doesn’t really think many people will pay for a standalone service, but wants that option out there as a way to illustrate the value that consumers will get if they get Apple’s stuff via some other offer, liked a bundled subscription.

Apple declined to comment on its content plans.

This article originally appeared on

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