Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Apple claims its AppleTV+ streaming service has less than 20 million subscribers and tells Hollywood's IATSE union it therefore doesn't need to pay production crews more.

by Thinus Ferreira

Apple, trying to get away from  having to pay workers more, has told a Hollywood trade union that its Apple TV+ video streaming service is doing much worse than rivals like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video and had less than 20 million subscribers by July this year in the United States and Canada.

Apple has never revealed any subscriber or user numbers for its Apple TV+ service that launched in late-2019 but Apple is trying to worm its way out of having to pay production crews more, claiming it has less than 20 million subscribers.

Apple told the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) union - a union that represents TV and film workers who work in jobs like operating cameras, production designers, set builders, makeup artists and costume designers - that it only has 20 million subscribers in the USA and Canada, which according to an existing agreement allows Apple to pay IATSE crew a smaller discount-rate.

According to an IATSE spokesperson, under its current contract with Apple for Apple TV+ shows like Foundation, The Morning Show and Ted Lasso, high-budget productions are done on lower paying rates because Apple TV+ has less than 20 million subscribers in the USA and Canada.

IATSE is currently in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) over a new contract, of which Apple is a member, in which it wants to do away with the discount rate.

The alliance negotiates on behalf of all of its members, including Apple's Apple TV+.

"Workers on certain 'new media' streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters," IATSE says in a press release, noting that negotiations had stalled.

David S. Goyer, the showrunner of the newly-released Foundation series on Apple TV+, for instance mentioned in interviews that the first season of 10 episodes of the new series had a massive budget similar to that of 5 movies. 

Apple is spending $15 million per episode on The Morning Show that entered its second season on Apple TV+.

IATSE says that it is getting ready for a strike, with ballots that will be send out on 1 October to its 150 000 members to authorise possible strike action.

"It is incomprehensible that the AMPTP, an ensemble that includes media mega corporations collectively worth trillions of dollars, claims it cannot provide behind-the-scenes crews with basic human necessities like adequate sleep, meal breaks, and living wages," IATSE says.

IATSE also objects to "excessively unsafe and harmful working hours, unliveable wages for the lowest paid crafts and consistent failure to provide reasonable rest during meal breaks, between workdays and on weekends".

"These issues are real for the workers in our industry, and change is long overdue. However, the explosion of streaming combined with the pandemic has elevated and aggravated working conditions, bringing 60 000 behind-the-scenes workers covered by these contracts to a breaking point."

"We risked our health and safety all year, working through the pandemic to ensure that our business emerged intact. Now, we cannot and will not accept a deal that leaves us with an unsustainable outcome."

IATSE originally agreed on a contract with video streaming services like Apple TV+ in 2009 under which these services would pay a lower production rate while they had under 20 million subscribers.

Although Apple's Apple TV+ has less than 20 million subscribers in the USA and Canada, Apple TV+ is available in more than 100 countries worldwide, including South Africa, although Apple TV+ doesn't seem to regard countries like South Africa as any kind of priority.

This means that Apple TV+ actually has more than 20 million subscribers globally, although the exact number isn't made known publicly.