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Apple's first try with online TV gets mixed reviews

By: The Washington Post
June 18, 2017 Updated: June 18, 2017 at 1:49 pm
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photo - The new Apple TV set-top box is displayed after a product announcement in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by David Paul.
The new Apple TV set-top box is displayed after a product announcement in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by David Paul. 

Even as Apple sought to wow the public this week by announcing loads of new hardware and software updates, the tech company was preparing for a major new experiment in a very different part of its business: online television.

On Tuesday, Apple debuted the first episode of its new reality show featuring Gwyneth Paltrow, will.i.am, Jessica Alba and the entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk as a panel of judges. Known as "Planet of the Apps," the show places fresh-faced app developers on the spot for a chance at winning funding and a promising future. Contestants have one minute to deliver an "escalator pitch" to the judges on an actual moving walkway; if they survive the round, they may win mentoring from a judge before making another pitch to a venture capital firm.

Tech geeks and fans of CNBC's "Shark Tank" are already warming to the series. But early signs suggest it may prove less accessible to Apple's more casual viewers.

The show, which is available on iTunes as well as Apple Music, gets the iPhone-maker's feet wet in the increasingly competitive world of streaming media.

In addition to "Planet of the Apps," Apple released a music documentary in December and has plans in August to air new episodes of "Carpool Karaoke," a show popularized by TV host James Corden in which Corden sings along with his celebrity guests to music while behind the wheel of a car.

"Planet of the Apps" reflects a big bet on the future of Apple's app-driven ecosystem. For years, Apple has touted the popularity of its app store and its role in creating a whole new cottage industry of programmers. By highlighting the nuts and bolts of conceiving and pitching an app, Apple gives new, nascent entrepreneurs a better peek into the industry that helps sustain the company's profits. (Apple takes a 30 percent cut of every app sold from its App Store, adding up to $28 billion a year in revenue.)

But on the show, that obsession with process often comes at the expense of the elements that typically make reality TV click, according to some critics.

"The biggest problem with 'Planet of the Apps' is that it doesn't know what it's selling - which should be the contestants," wrote Maureen Ryan, Variety's chief TV critic, in a review. "It should turn them into compelling TV characters and make their quests dramatic, but it does a mediocre-to-poor job on those fronts."

The show's reviews on iTunes haven't fared much better. As of Wednesday afternoon, "Planet of the Apps" had a 2.5-star rating out of 5, with five reviewers. One user who goes by the handle "switcher2" said the judges lacked the expertise to evaluate the contestants' offerings.

Others said the moving walkway was a bit of a gimmick.

Still, many are willing to give "Planet of the Apps" a chance, particularly those who are part of or already familiar with the tech industry.

"As a tech entrepreneur myself, I found it to be super compelling, accurate, and inspiring!" wrote one commenter, Namon Eugene, on Variety's review. "I think you have to be in the tech world to appreciate the show."

While "Planet of the Apps" may appeal to a niche audience, Apple's enormous overall fan base is likely to contain enough potential viewers to keep the show going - at least until the company launches its next big move in TV.

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