After the release of the Apple Music service and the Beats 1 radio station, are we about to see Apple venture into mainstream media?
The BBC world service is a huge asset to the UK, demonstrating what is known as “soft power”. Away from economic or military power, soft power is an ability to attract support in a more covert way. The BBC World Service is an important tool for the country as it is a freely accessible, global news service which allows news and information to be framed in any way the BBC chooses. Ideas and facts are able to be presented in a UK-leaning way, meaning that inhabitants of foreign countries may be more sympathetic to certain ways of thinking.
The World Service has suffered heavy cuts over the past few years, leading to questions being asked about whether the UK’s soft power would diminish as a result. A BBC report released earlier this year revealed that the UK could risk becoming marginalised by other global broadcasters such as Russia Today and al-Jazeera.
So what does this have to do with Apple?
Well, it could be that they’re trying to build up their soft power by capitalising on their already enormous reach. At this time last year, Apple had sold over 800 million iOS devices and they have just released Apple Music along with the Beats 1 radio which will be accessible to the vast majority of iOS users. While Apple Music is a subscription-only service, Beats 1 is completely free to stream, just as radio is free to listen to. We’re seeing Apple increase their music services, but this could just be the foundations for something much bigger.
The number 1 in the name implies there’ll be more “stations” to come, but who’s to say they’ll stop at music? Pulling in Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe was a coup for Apple, but he may just be the first in a long line of talent that they entice to their radio service. We already have Beats 1, but imagine Sports 2 hosted by leading sports anchors, or News 3 with big name presenters. Apple have already expanded their news app, so it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to imagine they’d have their own news station. This goes back to our original point about the BBC World Service. Where other large institutions stand to lose their soft power, Apple are in a strong position to increase theirs.
Apple already have a global reach and would not have to spend too much time, effort or capital on becoming an authority on world news and opinion. Their userbase is already loyal (fanatical in some cases!) so as long as any move towards news broadcasting is smooth, unobtrusive and integrated with their other services, Apple’s news channels could be the go-to stations for their users.
There are of course detractors...
The Guardian surmises that traditional radio has nothing to worry about with Beats. They do miss the bigger picture though. They have assumed that Apple will be content with just running a radio station or even that they are competing with radio, which just isn’t the case. Radio listenership is in decline especially among young people, and if Apple have just launched an on demand music service as well, it’s hard to see them launching a radio station because they believe they will attract more users. The Guardian do touch on an interesting point though:
“A service such as Beats 1, which is media, has to be able to get people to do something and that’s difficult. Media is more about delivery than content, more about habits than inspiration, more about what you reach for at the same time each day than the thing that happens to be at the end of that reach”.
While institutions like the BBC have built up a credible reputation over a number of decades, Apple don’t necessarily have to prove themselves. Apple are respected in many other fields which undoubtedly carries an element of authority. How they deliver their service, and how accessible it is not only to current users, but to those without Apple devices will determine how successful it will be. Perhaps they will want to keep Beats 1 (and any other stations they may add) exclusive to Apple customers, but maybe we’re about to see the birth of the next media giant.