Scripted television is enormously expensive, so any commitment to it must be sincere. From shooting on location to taking out insurance to paying actors, crew members, directors and writers, it is impossible to dive in without allocating plenty of cash, while also being patient enough to weather blows at a time when it is increasingly difficult to land a signature hit.
The moves also come amid a fierce arms race for content. Netflix recently poached Shonda Rhimes from ABC, whose parent company, Disney, is preparing its own stand-alone streaming services.
But Apple’s wealth and its willingness to commit resources have sent shock waves through the industry. Two months ago, the company chose Sony’s television studio heads, Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, to lead its programming efforts.
Mr. Erlicht and Mr. Van Amburg were certainly regarded in Hollywood as talented studio executives, having shepherded hit series like “The Crown,” “The Goldbergs” and “Breaking Bad.” But their move to Apple, and their programming budget of a little more than $1 billion, has suddenly made them among the most powerful executives in television.
That budget also puts them on a par with the most elite programmers in television. FX, which makes shows like “American Horror Story” and “Fargo,” has a programming budget of around $1 billion. HBO’s budget is believed to be around $3 billion, and Netflix will spend about $6 billion on content this year.
FX’s chief executive, John Landgraf, has been outspoken about his uneasiness with the amount of money now pouring into the industry and what it will mean for competitors with smaller budgets.
“It’s like getting shot in the face with money every day,” he said at a news media event this month. “And I have no idea how much capital Apple is going to deploy, how many shows they’re going to buy.”
Mr. Erlicht and Mr. Van Amburg started at Apple a few weeks ago. In the coming months, they are expected to hire a few dozen people as they staff up at the Culver City, Calif., offices they share with Beats Electronics, which Apple acquired for about $3 billion in 2014.
It is not clear how people will be able to watch or pay for Apple’s original programs. Without any current acquisitions, it will take at least a year for any of the company’s projects to be ready for the viewing public. The entertainment drive is also unique from Apple Music — programs like “Planet of the Apps” and “Carpool Karaoke” are currently available on the service — and it is possible that a new app will be made to stream the new original series.
Apple declined to comment for this article, but it should not be long before Mr. Erlicht and Mr. Van Amburg begin competing for projects, most likely to be made by outside studios at first. (And there are already are plenty of projects on the market, including a highly coveted new series about morning TV shows starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston.) With the amount of money at its disposal, Apple could easily have more than a dozen original series.
But as Apple starts to gear up, Facebook is already well on its way.
The company’s Hollywood development team is led by Mina Lefevre, previously of MTV. Facebook has told people in the industry that it is willing to spend $3 million to $4 million an episode on new programming, according to a person familiar with their plans. That kind of spending would put the company on an equal footing with many broadcast and cable networks.
And while many new entrants into scripted television want big shows with mass appeal like “Game of Thrones” or Emmy-bait like “Homeland,” Facebook has a more targeted plan.
It has indicated it wants shows that are attractive to people in their midteens up to those in their mid-30s, along the lines of frothy fare like “The Bachelor,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “Scandal.” Those shows generate plenty of talk on social media platforms, and Facebook executives are apparently dedicated to programming that they believe will ignite conversation on the social network.
Unlike Netflix, which releases all episodes of its series at once so that they can be binge-watched, Facebook is expected to release episodes on a more traditional schedule (it is unclear whether that will be once a week). Facebook also plans to have so-called mid-roll ads, or brief commercials, during episodes.
A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment.
Facebook will soon unveil a Watch tab, where users can find the original series and other video content that will be less expensive to make.
YouTube is in the process of green-lighting series. Like Facebook, the Google-owned video site is focused mainly on series that appeal to 16- to 35-year-olds, according to a person briefed on the plans. YouTube executives have said they will spend up to $2 million an episode on a comedy, and more than $3 million on a drama, this person said.
Although Mr. Kyncl would not discuss budgets, he said the company’s efforts in scripted television were genuine. Originally, YouTube and its subscription YouTube Red channel were largely focused on creating bigger budget shows for YouTube stars.
YouTube’s ambitions are now pointed toward creating more traditional TV fare. Mr. Kyncl said the company was drawing lessons from what users on its platform search for. (The tactic is not new. Netflix has long used its vast supply of subscriber data to help inform its original programming choices). YouTube plans to put some of its shows behind a paywall, while others will be free.
YouTube recently began development on “Cobra Kai,” a “Karate Kid” comedy spinoff that got the go-ahead after executives saw how often people were searching for clips from the original movie, Mr. Kyncl said. The company gave a green light last year to the scripted dance series “Step Up” after it saw how popular dancing videos were with users.
Data searches, Mr. Kyncl said, provided a “window into the demand of Hollywood product on YouTube.”
“Why not fulfill this demand?” he said. “It makes absolute sense. It’s in the service of our users.”
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