Apple’s video subscription service is finally here, and it’s cheap. At ₹99, its pricing in India is among the cheapest in the world. But Apple TV+ is entirely composed of original content, and being the newborn service that it is, there’s not many shows to pick from. And some of those that are available are censored in India.
With stars like Jennifer Aniston, Jason Momoa, Oprah, and star directors like Stephen Spielberg, the hitherto aperitif of the service’s content is still impressive. If you usually seek guidance to pick what shows are worth your time in this golden age of television (as you should!), it helps that most of them have been viewed and written about by critics already.
It’s cheap: Apple TV+ is so cheap that getting it is a no-brainer, especially if you recently bought an Apple device that makes you eligible for a year-long free trial. If not, you can always burn through the catalogue with a seven-day trial to see if it’s good enough to add to your streaming service line-up.
The price-point isn’t really surprising, considering how Apple lowered its already-low pricing for its music streaming service in the wake of Spotify’s launch. (Such startling competitive prices are nowhere to be found for their devices, though, which are the most expensive in the world.)
What to watch: See (starring Jason Momoa) and The Morning Show (Jennifer Aniston) don’t seem to be resonating with critics as much as expected. Dickinson, a period drama about the poet Emily Dickinson, created by a Alina Smith, is among the few to scrape past a Tomatometer score of 70. For All Mankind, about an alternate timeline where the Soviets win the space race, seems to have gotten a warm reception as well.
Not on Android: Watching Apple TV+ is practically impossible for the moment if you, like most Indians with a smartphone, are on an Android phone; compare this to most other streaming services, which tend to have an app on the Play Store. You’re essentially tethered to your laptop or TV if you want to use the service, unless you have an iPhone. On top of that, you need an international credit card, and debit cards are not accepted. (Two of my own credit cards ended up getting declined, and I eventually got access by getting onto an Apple family group.) The app is also stripped of features on the Fire TV, with no options during playback to toggle audio and subtitles; only seeking within the video is possible.
No Indian content: While it’s not exactly surprising that there’s been no Indian (or any non-English language) content in the very beginning, Apple has gotten rights to adapt Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts’s novel about an Australian prison escapee who starts a life in Bombay. Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam will play the lead. But production on that show only started last month. Since Apple is featuring only originals, and no licensed content, there’s no movie library to fall back on.
Apple is breaking from the Prime Video–Netflix paradigm by choosing to censor its shows in India. They cut down on the gore on See, reducing the runtime of the first episode by over a minute; and arbitrarily and inconsistently muting a swear word on The Morning Show, going so far as to even remove it from the subtitles, like on broadcast TV. They even went so far as to use the CBFC’s certificate typeface on their content classification labels (‘A/व’ for 18+ shows). The similarities don’t end there: shows start with an anti-smoking warning too.
Apple has experience censoring content in India: since iTunes Movies was released, the company has been selling censored versions of Hollywood movies, even though such censorship online isn’t required yet. Google’s Play Movies does the same thing, but YouTube Premium shows don’t seem to be censored in India. This isn’t even Apple TV+’s first censorious move — show creators were warned not to create content critical of China, in spite of the fact that Apple TV+ isn’t available there.
Apple’s censorship sends the wrong signal and sets the wrong precedent, especially at a time when the Indian government looms over streaming services and seeks to censor them, and streaming services fight off legal challenges. This is especially worrying considering that the cuts don’t seem to be very necessary in the first place, which begs the question of why Apple did this.