Apple — which has never publicly revealed how many subscribers Apple TV+ has — told a production union that the streaming service, which will turn two years old on November 1, had fewer than 20 million subscribers in the U.S. and Canada as of July 1.
The claim was made to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) as part of the process used to determine how much behind-the-scenes production crews are paid, a union spokesperson told CNBC.
Under the union’s existing contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), big-budget productions bound for streaming services with under 20 million subscribers are allowed to pay lower rates.
In January of this year, a MoffettNathanson survey indicated that 62% of all Apple TV+ subscribers were on promotional plans, and just 30% said they planned to pay to continue the service after their trials expired.
Apple declined to comment on Apple TV+’s subscriber numbers, but said it pays production worker rates in line with other leading streaming services.
Ampere Analysis estimated that Apple TV+ reached 33.6 million "subscribers" by the end of 2020, and Statista estimated the number at about 40 million by year-end 2020 -- but their estimates include nonpaid users on free trials.
The union spokesperson also said that NBCUniversal’s Peacock and ViacomCBS’s Paramount+ currently qualify for the worker rates based on having under 20 million North American subscribers.
NBCU reported that Peacock reached 54 million sign-ups in the U.S., with 20 million monthly active accounts, as of this year’s second quarter.
ViacomCBS has not broken out Paramount+ subscribers. In reporting its Q2 results in early August, it said that worldwide subscribers for its combined streaming services, led by Paramount+, grew by 6.5 million, to more than 42 million total.
Streaming services have had more flexible terms than productions bound for traditional TV or movie distribution channels based on the premise that their profitability was still uncertain, but IATSE leaders argue that the services are now well enough established that they should no longer be given special consideration.
Negotiations on a new IATSE-AMPTP contract have stalled and IATSE last week issued a release stating that it would seek a nationwide strike authorization vote.
“Workers on certain ‘new media’ streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released
blockbusters,” says the release.
The union is also demanding that AMPTP address what it says are unsafe and harmful working hours, unlivable wages for the lowest-paid crafts, and consistent failure to provide reasonable rest during meal breaks, workdays and weekends.
“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,” IATSE asserts.
IATSE said AMPTP had told the union that it would not make any more changes in its positions, but AMPTP denied that. “It is unfortunate that IATSE has gone down the path of publishing false information,” the producers’ alliance stated.
Streaming services have been struggling to one degree or another with production shutdowns and slowdowns since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.
Last week, Disney CEO Bob Chapek cited pandemic-related delays in content production as one reason that the company has lowered its expectations for Disney+ subscriber gains in its current fiscal fourth quarter, to growth in the low single-digit millions.